Turkish court censors articles on minister’s visit to cemetery of Islamist leader

Turkish news websites on Tuesday began removing articles on Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s alleged visit to the grave of the founder of an illegal Islamist group, following a court order that put into practice Turkey’s recent social media laws.

Left-leaning news website OdaTV published an article on July 25, detailing Akar’s visit to the cemetery, home to the graves of Turkish poet and Islamist ideologue Necip Fazıl Kısakürek and İzzet Erdiş, better known as Salih Mirzabeyoğlu, who founded the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front (IBDA-C) based on Kısakürek’s ideas.

A pro-IBDA-C account, in a since deleted tweet, claimed Akar and former Energy Minister Taner Yıldız visited “the Commander’s mausoleum,” where they allegedly prayed for him, OdaTV’s report said.

Other news websites, including Halk TV and Sol, also published articles based on OdaTV’s report.

An Istanbul court on Monday banned access to all three articles, citing a violation of personal rights, Internet censorship monitor EngelliWeb said in a tweet.

Sol reported that the article had been banned for access from Turkey, but the original content has also completely been removed from the website, with URLs leading to the original article redirected.

Yaman Akdeniz, cyber rights activist and professor of law, said the websites had removed the content on Tuesday morning, following the Monday midnight court order banning access.

“Censorship under the new regulation has started to run fast,” Akdeniz said in a tweet.

Turkey passed a new social media law in late July, imposing strict controls and new measures of control over online content, including expression of ideas and dissemination of news stories.

The right to be forgotten was introduced to Turkish law in the bill, as well as more extensive measures to protect citizens against slander.

"From now on, the content of the opposition news websites will be targetted in the first phase, and all news that the government and politicians do not like retrospectively will be deleted and the past will be cleared. That's the goal, not to protect citizens," Akdeniz had said in a tweet immediately after the law’s passing.

The new law would “close the window on press freedom once and for all,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany Director Christian Mihr said in July.

Erdiş was arrested in 1998 and convicted to life in prison on terrorism charges. He spent more than 15 years in prison, to be released in 2014 following a retrial.

IBDA-C continued as a decentralised militant group in his absence, and various groups claiming to be associated with it assumed responsibility for several terrorist attacks on banks, churches, synagogues as well as places they deemed not fit for Islam, such as bars, adding up to more than 60 victims.

After Erdiş’s release, he had short a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reportedly discussing his adaptation to freedom.