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Turkey: First Twitter, now YouTube – UN rights experts concerned at attempts to restrict access before elections

GENEVA (28 March 2014) – A group of United Nations independent experts expressed serious concern over the Government’s measures, taken in the context of forthcoming elections, to prevent access to YouTube a week after Twitter was shut down.

“The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a central pillar of modern democratic societies”, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, said. “Blocking access to YouTube and Twitter entirely unduly restricts this fundamental right. This is all the more surprising following the recent temporary court injunction against the blocking of Twitter”, he added.

“Concerns about national security can be legitimate, but limitations to the freedom to seek, receive and impart information must conform to the strict test of necessity and proportionality to the aim pursued”, Mr. La Rue said.

“International standards are clear: the free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues among people, candidates and elected representatives is essential,” he noted. “This requires a free press and other media to facilitate debate on public issues without censorship or restraint, in particular in the context of elections. The public also has a corresponding right to access information freely.”

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, highlighted the key role of social media and access to information for those who defend and promote human rights, including by monitoring elections and public debate, and by raising issues of public interest.

“Blocking access to Twitter and YouTube is also a severe blow to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, since social media is increasingly used by people to mobilize and organize peaceful protests, especially in the context of elections,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, pointed out.

“Such restrictions could undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process and call into question the guarantees of free and fair exercise of people’s civil and political rights,” they said.

The independent experts noted that they stand ready to cooperate with the Turkish Government with a view to ensuring that it meets its obligations under international human rights law.

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. In March 2014, three new mandates will be added. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Learn more, visit:
Freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Freedoms of peaceful assembly and association: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Turkey: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TRIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Victoria Kuhn (+41 22 917 9278 / vkuhn@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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