Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan has delivered a stinging broadside to the country’s highest court for overturning a ban on Twitter, refuelling controversy over his social media crackdown.
As he spoke on Friday, a lower court in the capital Ankara defied the government by ruling against another, ongoing social media ban, on the video-sharing site YouTube.
Erdogan’s government was on Thursday forced to unblock the micro-blogging service Twitter, which has been used to spread a torrent of damaging online leaks alleging corruption in the premier’s inner circle.
The prime minister made clear he was unhappy about having to comply with the Constitutional Court, which had found the March 20 ban breached the right to free speech, and the rulings of which can’t be appealed.
“We are of course bound by the Constitutional Court verdict but I don’t have to respect it,” Erdogan defiantly told a press conference.
“I don’t respect this ruling.”
Erdogan said “the Constitutional Court should have rejected” the application to lift the Twitter block brought by an opposition lawmaker and two academics.
“All our national, moral values have been put aside,” he said about the spate of anonymously posted recordings.
“Insults to a country’s prime minister and ministers are all around.”
The internet crackdown has sparked protests from Turkey’s NATO allies and human rights groups, which have deplored it as curbing the right to free expression – a notion Erdogan dismissed.
“This is a commercial company which has a product,” he said of the San Francisco-based service.
“It is not only Twitter. YouTube and Facebook are also commercial companies. It is everyone’s free will whether or not to buy their product. This has nothing to do with freedoms.”
The Ankara court meanwhile ruled against a March 27 ban on YouTube, which came after the site was used to spread audio recordings of security talks on Syria involving top government, military and spy officials.
In the leaked recording on Syria, voices could be heard weighing possible military action inside the neighbouring war-torn country.
The Turkish foreign ministry is now moving to ban all mobilephones inside its Ankara premises, to prevent further “espionage”, the Hurriyet daily reported.
Erdogan’s government has been rattled by the twin crises of mass street protests since last June and, since December, the torrent of online leaks.
The months of crises have polarised Turkish society and widened a gulf between a secular and pro-Western middle class and the mostly conservative Muslim and working class supporters of Erdogan.
While Erdogan has been accused of an increasingly authoritarian ruling style, he is admired by millions of Turks for driving a decade of economic growth and raising Turkey’s status as an emerging global player.
Despite the allegations, Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) scored sweeping wins in crucial local polls last Sunday which were seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s 11-year-rule.
Emboldened by the results, Erdogan is now seen to consider either a run for the presidency in the country’s first direct elections for the head of state in August, or to change AKP rules to allow him a fourth term as premier.