Two weeks after winning the Turkish constitutional referendum by a modest but decisive margin, president – or perhaps it is now despot – Erdogan decided to take his newly decreed powers for a spin and overnight in rapid succession surprised foreign observers when Turkey decreed that it would ban TV dating shows, fire an additional 4,000 public officials and also ban Wikipedia.
The country’s Official Gazette published the decrees on Saturday evening. The first named thousands of civil servants to be dismissed, including nearly 500 academics and more than 1,000 Turkish military personnel. The decree also reinstated 236 people to their jobs. The second decree, among other things, bans radio and television programs for “finding friends and spouses” according to AP.
The latest purge follows more than 47,000 people have been arrested and 100,000 have been terminated for alleged connections to terror organizations, and takes place with Turkey under a state of emergency resulting from last summer’s failed “coup” attempt which Erdogan blamed on the “shadow state” directed by the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in rural Pennsylvania.
Erdogan’s decree also banned several popular TV dating shows, a move that reportedly had been in the worls for months.
“In radio and television broadcasting services, such programmes in which people are introduced to find a friend…. cannot be permitted,” said the text of the decree.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in March that the ban was in the pipeline, arguing the shows do not fit in with Turkish traditions and customs.
“There are some strange programmes that would scrap the institution of family, take away its nobility and sanctity,” Kurtulmus said at the time.
Some see in this decree the first traces of Turkey sliding back away from the secular state, established less than a century ago by the creator of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and toward conservative Islam under Erdogan. However, AKP supporters have responded that dating shows receive thousands of complaints every year and the ban is in the public interest.
Separately, Turkey also said it had blocked all access to Wikipedia; the country’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority implemented the ban against the online encyclopedia because Wikipedia “had failed to remove content promoting terror and accusing Turkey of cooperation with various terror groups” according to AFP. “There was no indication when the ban might be removed, with a formal court order expected to follow in the coming days.”
In response to the news, Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales tweeted that “access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people, I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”
In an ironic twist, AFP notes that the incident quickly spawned its own separate Wikipedia entry, “Wikipedia blocked in Turkey.”
Over the past several years, Turkey has repeatedly blocked – so far on a temporary basis – popular websites such as Facebook and Twitter, usually shortly after major events such as mass protests or terror attacks take place.