Church Website Blocked as ‘Porn’ in Turkish Parliament, Legislator Says

Lawmaker demands investigation.

Wikimedia's 404 error message. (Wikimedia)

Wikimedia’s 404 error message. (Wikimedia)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – A Turkish legislator is demanding an investigation into why the website of at least one Turkish church was labeled pornography and blocked from computers at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).

While doing research on Wednesday (May 28) for a trip to Diyarbakir, Aykan Erdemir, a legislator from Bursa with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), discovered that the website for Diyarbakir Church could not be accessed by members of the TBMM (or Parliament).

“And then I realized it was blocked, and there was an interface screen that said the reason why it was blocked was pornography,” Erdemir, who sits on the Committee on Inspection of Human Rights, told Morning Star News. “It’s not an acceptable thing to find out this has been going on.”

The same day he discovered the ban, Erdemir filed a “parliamentary question” to Cemil Çiçek, speaker of the Parliament and member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdemir said he did not know if the fault for the ban lay in some error with filtering software or if someone with access to the computer system, such as a systems administrator or another legislator, labeled the site as containing pornographic material, triggering the ban. The parliamentary question, in theory, forces the Speaker of the Parliament to give an answer.

“I think both are possible,” Erdemir said. “[But] I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some malicious intent.”

Erdemir was troubled, he said, that when he became aware of the ban, instead of assuming it was a technical glitch, he had to ask himself, “Oh my God, is this on purpose?” The fact that the question had to be asked, he said, “shows how toxic the religious freedom environment is” in Turkey.

Umut Ṣahin, general secretary for Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches, said the ban was “horrible.”

“It’s a shame,” Ṣahin said. “It really pains us at having this kind of accusation when we have a high moral standard.”

Sahid wouldn’t speculate on why the website was blocked, but he said there are people who “aren’t happy for Parliament to know what the churches are saying.”

By 4 p.m. on Thursday (May 29), the ban on the Diyarbakir Church website had been lifted. The ban did not affect anyone outside of Parliament, but Erdemir suspects that other Christian websites were being filtered from the Internet servers at Parliament.

After the ban was lifted, Erdemir tried to log on to numerous Christian websites from computers in the offices of the Parliament, only to find an error message that read, “The requested URL was not found on this server” for almost every church website he tried to access. It is commonly known as a “404” error.

Erdemir said he immediately checked the websites through a “proxy server” that circumvents Internet filters and found all of them were working fine.

Ṣahin said it appeared as though someone in Parliament had blocked “everything that had the word ‘Christian’ in it.” Strangely, with no further complaint, the websites with “404” errors all became accessible by Friday morning (May 30).

Erdemir said the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication (TIB) has blocked “tens of thousands of websites,” including the nation’s current ban on YouTube. Banned websites have a standard screen from the TIB, notifying potential viewers that the sight has been banned, but numerous websites dealing with Christians and human rights are inaccessible because of “404” errors.

Sites dealing with persecuted Christians in Iran and Israel and at least one website from the United States carrying news about persecuted Christians are routinely inaccessible in Turkey because of “404” errors, but when software is used that circumvents filtering programs, the websites are accessible again.

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