Turkey bans access to 16 VPN providers in effort to censor blocked news websites

Critics decry the move as part of a longstanding pattern of censorship, raising concerns about its suspicious timing ahead of the March 2024 local elections.

Turkey flag is depicted on the screen with the program code

The Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) in Turkey has banned 16 VPN providers to restrict access to news websites already blocked in the country. Critics argue that the move is part of a longstanding pattern of censorship, with concerns raised about its timing just ahead of the March 2024 local elections.

The BTK can block sites without a court order under the internet Bill 5651, citing national security or public order. Recent incidents include the blocking of content discussing a corruption scandal involving President Erdoğan’s son, Bilal Erdoğan.

Notable VPN services like Proton, Surfshark, and TunnelBear are among those affected, prompting some providers to offer alternatives for users to bypass the restrictions. Turkey has a history of blocking online content, and recent actions contribute to the country’s ‘not free’ rating in the 2023 Freedom on the Net report by Freedom House.

Why does it matter?

Turkey’s 165th rank in the 2023 Reporters Without Borders index signals a rise in authoritarianism, suppressing media diversity and stifling critics. Freedom House labels Turkey as ‘not free,’ with roughly twenty entities having the authority to censor online content. The notorious Law no. 5651, introduced in 2007, allows authorities to block access to online platforms, intensifying worries about diminishing free expression.