Turkey’s Ban on Wikipedia Is Unconstitutional, Court Says

A high court in Turkey ruled on Thursday that the country’s ban on Wikipedia was unconstitutional, dealing a victory to free speech advocates more than two and a half years after the ban was imposed amid a crackdown on access to information.

The Turkish Constitutional Court — the highest court that could consider the issue — ruled in favor of Wikipedia after the online encyclopedia’s lawyers argued that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression, which is protected by the Turkish Constitution, according to Stephen LaPorte, the legal director for the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia.

The foundation said in a statement Thursday that it hoped “access will be restored in Turkey soon.” A summary of the case was posted on the court’s website. But before the ban is lifted, a full opinion will most likely need to be published, said Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University who had also challenged the ban on Wikipedia.

He said he expected the court’s decision on Thursday to be enforced.

“We join the people of Turkey, and the millions of readers and volunteers who rely on Wikipedia around the world, to welcome this important recognition for universal access to knowledge,” the foundation said in its statement.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The ban was seen as yet another attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to clamp down on freedom of expression. Mr. Erdogan was emboldened after a failed coup attempt in July 2016, embarking on a sweeping purge of Turkish institutions and suspending or firing thousands suspected of being dissidents, including judges and police officers.

Turkish voters approved a referendum in April 2017 that gave broad executive powers to Mr. Erdogan, whose government has sentenced dozens of journalists to prison.

The same month, Turkey blocked access to Wikipedia after the site refused to remove content that the government found offensive, including references to its relationship with terrorists and Syrian militants. The country said it was banning the site for the protection of public order or national security.

Days after the ban was imposed, Wikimedia asked a court to overturn it, Mr. LaPorte said. A court in Ankara ruled against the foundation, so it filed a series of appeals shortly afterward.

The foundation also announced in May that it had filed a case challenging the ban with the European Court of Human Rights. A response from Turkey in that case is due in January, the foundation said.

Many saw Thursday’s ruling as an attempt from Turkey to pre-empt or blunt a ruling from the European court.

“This is to avoid the European court issuing a judgment prior to the Constitutional Court issuing its judgment,” Mr. Akdeniz said. “That would have been detrimental to Turkey.”

The ruling on Thursday was not the first time that Turkey’s Constitutional Court had weighed in on bans on popular websites. In 2014, the court determined that bans on both YouTube and Twitter violated freedom of expression.

Mr. Akdeniz said Thursday’s ruling was “welcome.” But he said “it’s two and a half years late.”

“The Constitutional Court should have given priority to this case,” he said.

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