The European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) ruled that Turkey’s ban on YouTube between 2008 and 2010 violated the right to receive and impart information and ideas, granted by Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights (“European Convention”). The EHCR also noted the block could be considered a violation of people’s right to information.
The Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance ordered that YouTube be blocked in Turkey from May 2008. The ban was ordered on the grounds that the website contained ten videos which insulted the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
Three academic applied to have the Criminal Court’s decision set aside. However, the higher court upheld the decision on the grounds that the ban is legitimate and the applicants lacked capacity to sue, because they were not personally affected by the ban. The ban was ultimately lifted in October 2010, following a request from the company which owned the copyright to the videos in question.
YouTube was blocked again in Turkey on 17 June 2010. The block was challenged but the court dismissed the case and this dismissal was upheld by a higher court. The applicants challenged the dismissal decisions before the ECHR, asking for the measure to be revoked.
The ECHR considered whether the applicants qualified as victims (as required by the European Convention). It noted the applicants had actively used YouTube for professional purposes, particularly downloading or accessing videos within their academic work. The ECHR noted that the YouTube platform enables broadcasting of information regarding specific interests, particularly about political and social matters. Therefore, it held that YouTube is an important source of communication and the blocking order precluded access to specific information which is unavailable via other means. Accordingly, the ECHR held that YouTube supports and enables citizen journalism, which could impart political information not conveyed by traditional media. The ECHR accepted that YouTube plays a significant role in the applicants’ right to receive and impart information or ideas. Therefore, the applicants could legitimately claim to have been affected by the blocking order, even though they had not been directly targeted by it.
The ECHR notes there was no provision in Turkish law which allowed domestic courts to impose a blanket blocking order on websites.
Accordingly, the ECHR ruled that Turkey’s ban on YouTube violated the right to receive and impart information and ideas, granted by Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention.