Turkish artists’ fears grow after Erdogan’s election victory

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Court in Ankara overturns government’s ban on Twitter

By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 04 April 2014

He doesn’t want to hear it: Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vowed “to wipe out Twitter”

Turkish artists have spoken out against the censorship of social media by the country’s government after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed “to wipe out Twitter” in the run up to local elections, in which his party swept to victory. “For artists, and for freedom of speech, it’s all over here, this is the finish line,” said the artist Taner Ceylan.

Erdogan imposed a ban on Twitter on 21 March after users of the social media site posted allegations of government corruption. Erdogan has denied any wrongdoing and says he is the subject of a smear campaign.

On 2 April, the constitutional court in Ankara ordered the government to remove the restriction, saying that it violates freedom of expression. Today, Turkey’s telecoms authority lifted the ban but access to Twitter was blocked before local elections last Sunday.

Press reports also stated that the government had moved to block access to YouTube last week after a tape was leaked to the digital platform showing national security officials discussing possible military action in Syria. According to sources in Turkey, the ban on YouTube remains.

“It will get worse for artists, and for freedom, because this regime opposes art and artists. The government has closed theatres and cultural venues, and nudity or eroticism in art is out of the question,” Ceylan adds, stressing that many other artists feel under threat. “The dark period for Turkey is ahead.”

The artist, whose work is often erotically charged, exhibited works at the eighth and ninth Istanbul Biennials in 2003 and 2005.

“Censorship is a universal dilemma but it is much more acute in Turkey. It is also important to remember that there are more journalists in prison in Turkey than anywhere else: we are in a race with Iran and China,” said the artist and photographer Ali Taptik.

“Social media censorship brings Turkey to the attention of the international community. The only positive thing is that repression actually feeds creative minds and every day we’ll find new methods to make our voices heard,” he adds.

Taptik’s work has been shown at the Liverpool Photography Festival and at the Salt Beyoglu space in Istanbul. He is currently working on a commission for this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale (7 June-23 November).

The artists’ criticisms echo the fears recently expressed by a group of leading writers, such as Zadie Smith and Orhan Pamuk, who wrote a letter to the British newspaper The Guardian stating their “grave concern” about “the freedom of words” in Turkey today.

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