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06.01.2016

ECtHR: Blocking of access to YouTube is a violation of the freedom of expression

Ass. jur. Gianna Iacino

On 1 December 2015, in the case Cengiz and Others v Turkey (appl. no. 4822610 and 14027/11), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held, that the blocking of access to YouTube is a violation of the right to freedom of expression according to article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR).

The Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance ordered Internet Access Providers to block the access to the website YouTube pursuant to a Turkish Law regulating Internet publications and combatting Internet offences (no. 5651), because it found ten videos on the website YouTube to be insulting to the memory of Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. YouTube is a video-sharing website, which enables users to send, view and share videos. Following the blocking order, the website was not accessible in Turkey for six month.

The applicants – three academics from different universities in Turkey – applied to have the blocking order lifted. They argued that there was a public interest in having access to YouTube and that the blocking of access to YouTube interfered with their right to receive and impart information and ideas. The Turkish Court rejected the applications, inter alia, due to the fact that the blocking order did not target the applicants directly, and that, therefore, they had no standing to challenge it. Furthermore, the Turkish Court decided that the blocking order was in accordance with the Turkish Law. Following the rejection of their application, the three academics approached the ECtHR, complaining of an infringement of their rights.

 

The ECtHR decided that the applicants could challenge the order, because they could legitimately claim that the blocking order had affected their right to receive and impart information and ideas. According to the ECtHR, the applicants had victim status. Victim status applies when a person is affected by an alleged Human Rights violation. Unlike the Turkish Court, the ECtHR held that the applicants were affected by the blocking order, even though the blocking order did not target them directly. The court noted that the academics used YouTube actively for professional purposes and that, therefore, YouTube had been an important means for the applicants to exercise their right to receive and impart information. Furthermore, the Court stated that the platform YouTube was an important source of communication for society overall, which benefitted the emergence of citizen journalism which facilitates political information beyond the traditional media.

 

The ECtHR then found that the Turkish Law regulating Internet publications and combatting Internet offences (no. 5651) did not authorize the blocking of access to an entire Internet site because of one of its contents. Therefore, the violation of the applicants rights could not be justified in the present case.

Ass. iur. Gianna Iacino, LL.M., is a Research Associate at the Institute for European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.


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The judgment is available in French language.

The press release of the ECtHR is available in English language.



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