World | Asia

May 01, 2017

Turkey Purges 4,000 More Officials, and Blocks Wikipedia

The Turkish government expanded its crackdown on dissent and free expression over the weekend, purging nearly 4,000 more public officials, blocking access to Wikipedia and banning television matchmaking shows.

A total of 3,974 civil servants were fired on Saturday from several ministries and judicial bodies, and 45 civil society groups and health clinics were shut down, according to a decree published in Turkey’s official gazette.

Turkish internet users also woke up on Saturday to find that they no longer had access to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written by volunteers.

The dismissals mean that an estimated 140,000 people have now been purged from the state and private sectors, and more than 1,500 civil groups closed, since a failed coup last year.

It also ends opposition hopes that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may ease the crackdown and build greater national consensus after his narrow victory in a recent referendum to expand the power of his office.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan has accelerated the process. Since the referendum, and before Saturday’s move, the police had detained more than 1,000 workers and suspended a further 9,000 accused of having ties to an Islamic group founded by a United States-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

The organization was once allied with Mr. Erdogan, but is now accused by the government of masterminding the failed attempt to overthrow him in July. Those purged on Saturday were also accused of having connections to Mr. Gulen.

The crackdown has also affected leftists, liberals and members of the secular opposition across most sections of public life, many of whom have long voiced their opposition to the Gulen movement. Those in jail or out of a job include academics, public transport employees, teachers and at least 120 journalists — more than in any other country in the world.

It was not immediately clear exactly why Wikipedia was targeted, but the ban is the latest salvo against freedom of expression in Turkey. More than 150 news outlets have been shut down by decree since July, according to one estimate.

The government justified the ban by claiming that the site’s articles constituted “a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena,” according to a statement published by Anadolu Agency, the state-owned news wire.

The ban followed Wikipedia’s refusal to remove content that the Turkish government found offensive, the government said.

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, criticized the decision on Twitter. “Access to information is a fundamental human right,” he wrote. “Turkish people I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”

In another restriction announced this weekend, the government decreed that television channels could no longer broadcast dating programs, a staple on Turkish daytime TV and a major source of advertising revenue.

The shows had been criticized by people from across the country’s liberal-conservative divide, with over 120,000 people signing a petition against the format.

Feminists said the spiteful interactions that the shows sometimes encouraged were debasing to the contestants. Conservatives disliked how they often fast-tracked the betrothal process, which they said undermined the institution of marriage.

“Some of these shows are really out of control,” Numan Kurtulmus, a deputy prime minister, said in a television interview before the ban. “They are against our family values, culture, faith and traditions.”

Text by The New York Times
 

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