A handful of Internetophiles had called for a protest meeting all across Turkey against the reform of the already heavily criticized Internet Regulations Law 5651. The law, stressful enough as it is, brings new, further and more advanced methods of government surveillance and censorship of the Internet, limiting citizens’ (and foreign visitors’) freedom of speech as well as their right to information. The people against further limitation of their rights took to the streets on 18 January at 6 p.m..
Before the protest dozens of buses full of riot police, undercover police agents, dozens of water cannon, and riot control vehicles were deployed to Taksim Square. The area resembled a battlefield when police laid siege to Gezi Park and Republic Monument as they marched from the Ataturk Cultural Center (which has now been turned into a police fortress as civilians are not allowed within 25 meters).
When one rushes down from Istiklal to make it to the protest venue – in front of Galatasaray Lyceum – it is possible that he/she will be stopped several times by the undercover policemen to have his/her smartphone checked for any kind of photos, Facebook posts or tweets. Finally at 6 p.m., as agreed days ago online, the protest began with a thousand people. Passersby keep joining in and only seconds after the protest began, riot police and water cannon blockaded the streets, surrounding protesters. The protesting crowd kept moving back and forth within the same 20-meter area, while a few police officers shouted to the crowd: “Unless you disperse this illegal activity, we will have to use force!”
There were dozens of tourists in the area, sipping their drinks; some families were enjoying a surprisingly warm winter night; people had brought their children and even families with baby-trolleys were around. Suddenly, water cannons started shooting and just a few seconds later blast bombs started going off to scare the crowds. Once again the police department have shown the intolerant face of government regarding voices other than the Prime Minister’s.
In the meantime, most media portals started giving the news with the headlines “Protest Causes Clashes in Taksim,” failing to report that it was indeed the police that disturbed the crowds and a completely peaceful protest. While naively many people were expecting a repetition of May 15 2011 mass protest against the creation of Law no 5651 -or in other words Censorship and Surveillance Law- even the pessimists were not expecting this harsh of an intervention against civilians who demanded their liberties not to be taken away.
Meanwhile, the government started a new campaign against “too much freedom.” Next to an image of a beaten woman is a line that translates “Violence is a crime. What about the Internet? Absence of rules does not mean liberty!”, equating surfing the Internet freely and expressing opinions with using violence against someone. The once allegedly liberal AKP seems to have declared war on liberties and freedoms, now defending more regulations in every aspect of life and censorship of the media, literature and the Internet.
The worst part of this story is not the revealing of the true spirit of the AKP’s censorship attempts, but the fact that the bulk of the people who support the party think they will not be affected by these draconian laws at some point.
The result of the night was hours of clashes after the police attacks, dozens arrested, many people gassed, beaten, dragged to police stations, shot in the eyes with rubber bullets, and many severely wounded. Inhaling that gas makes one cough from the depth of one’s lungs. Yet the stink of oppression against liberty is even worse.