European court says Turkey's blocking of YouTube was illegal

STRASBOURG, France, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Turkey violated freedom of expression rights by blocking video platform YouTube for two and a half years, the European Court of Human Rights said on Tuesday.

Ankara had blocked access to YouTube between May 2008 and October 2010 on the ground that the website contained some 10 videos which were insulting to the memory of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Three Turkish academics lodged a complaint with the Strasbourg-based court, which deals with violations of the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory.

“They could legitimately claim that the blocking order in question had affected their right to receive and impart information and ideas,” the court said in a unanimous decision, noting that no law at the time allowed Turkish courts to impose a blanket blocking order on the basis of one part of its content.

Turkish legislation has since been changed to allow this.

The court also observed that YouTube was “a platform which enabled information of specific interest, particularly on political and social matters, to be broadcast and citizen journalism to emerge”.

Turkey had argued that the videos had not been deleted from the website’s database and could therefore still be accessed by users worldwide, the court said.

Turkey temporarily blocked YouTube and Twitter before local elections in March 2014, after audio recordings purportedly showing corruption in then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle were leaked on their sites.

That decision caused a public uproar and drew heavy international criticism.

In April this year, Turkey also briefly banned YouTube and Twitter after a court ordering them to remove images of a prosecutor held at gunpoint by far-left militants.

Government critics said the crackdown on the sites reflected growing authoritarianism in Turkey, whose record on freedom of expression and media under President Erdogan has frequently attracted international criticism.

That criticism was revived last week after the arrest of two prominent journalists on charges of espionage and terrorist propaganda. (Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg; Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; Writing by Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alison Williams)