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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Turkey Follows Twitter Ban With Block on YouTube as Audio of High-Level Meeting on Syria Leaks

Updated, 5:55 p.m. | The Turkish government blocked access to YouTube on Thursday, after an audio recording was uploaded to the platform in which the foreign minister and senior military and intelligence officials could be heard discussing the security situation in Syria.

Several Turks posted images of the blocked site on Twitter, and a spokeswoman for Google, which owns the video-sharing platform, said in a statement, “We’re seeing reports that some users are not able to access YouTube in Turkey. There is no technical issue on our side and we’re looking into the situation.”

As the English-language Hurriyet Daily News reports, Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the audio was recorded during “a top-secret meeting in the foreign minister’s office.” The conversation concerned plans to secure a site of historical significance to Turks in a part of northern Syria under the control of Islamist militants. Officials insisted, however, that the audio had been “distorted” through editing before being posted online.

The discussion concerned measures Turkey might take to secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a monument which is about 15 miles inside Syria, but is guarded by Turkish troops under an agreement signed with France in 1921, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

Reports in the Turkish press said that Islamist militants in Syria had threatened to attack the Turkish enclave in a video posted on YouTube last week unless Turkey lowered its flag and withdrew its troops.

Although the authenticity of the leaked audio about Turkey’s planned response to this threat remains in dispute, Ilhan Tanir, Washington correspondent for the Turkish daily Vatan, noted that links to the transcript, and an English translation of the audio had been posted on other sites, including Dropbox.

Despite the spread of information online, the government also moved to ban reporting on the leaked audio by news organizations in Turkey, Emre Peker of The Wall Street Journal noted.

Last week, Turkey banned Twitter in an attempt to stop the sharing of links to the audio recordings, which government officials say are based on illegal wiretaps but manipulated before being posted online, so that they seem to support what they call false allegations of corruption or wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters at a campaign rally that YouTube was being used in a dirty tricks campaign against his government before local elections. In recent weeks, dozens of wiretapped conversations among senior figures have been published on the site anonymously. “They even leaked a national security meeting,” Mr. Erdogan said on Thursday, according to a Reuters translation. “This is villainous, this is dishonesty,” he added. “Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”

As they did after the ban on Twitter, many Turks reported on Thursday that they were using technical measures to circumvent the block on YouTube.

Mr. Erdogan’s critics joked online about his supposed attempt to move Turkey out of the Internet age, and even mocked the physical tenor of his voice, which, according to Hurriyet, was so degraded by the “punishing nature of his campaign” schedule that he was forced, on Thursday, “to deliver his hard-hitting message in an unbefitting, falsetto.”