Defiant Kurdish news portal’s plight for survival in Turkey

A Kurdish news agency has shown an unusual defiance in the face of a repeated crackdown by Turkish authorities, putting up its web-site online for 40 times with different domains to bypass Turkey’s censorship machine.

Dicle news agency, or DIHA, is a vibrant news agency close to Kurdish PKK rebels. Most of its reporting is outright activism and Turkish officials claim that it serves as the PKK bulletin. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

Turkey’s telecommunications authority, the TIB, is simply unable to keep pace with the news agency’s digital team, who has displayed an unprecedented resilience since July 24, 2015, when the news agency’s web-site was first banned.

The TIB is viewed as the government’s most effective mechanism in restricting access to ”unwanted” web-sites, emboldened with a recent law that allows shutting down web-sites without a court order. Since last year, the watchdog has banned access to 350 news portals, in addition to thousands of other web-sites deemed as violating Turkish laws.

Every time the Kurdish news agency’s web-site was banned, they were quick in putting up a new domain. The last domain, dicle-haber.xyz, was banned on June 29. It was its 40th domain in just one year. DIHA’s woes do not end here. 11 of its journalists, all of them pressed with terror charges, are in prison. 

TIB’s another hobby is the banning access to a leftist web-site, sendika.org. As the web-site gets banned, it is adding ascending numbers to its domain. The highly critical site is now online at sendika10.org, opened after 12th ban.

The web-site of Nokta, a critical magazine famous for publishing photoshopped yet stinging cover photos, was banned three times in the past ten months. This week’s cover photo features Turkey’s interior minister Efkan Ala depicted as resting, shown with bloodied shoes oblivious to the carnage unfolding under his watch. The magazine’s two top editors were jailed last November after publishing a doctored photo of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan taking a selfie in front of the coffin of a slain Turkish soldier killed in fighting against PKK rebels.

Access to at least 640 links of news reports were banned in the last year. Only in the past week, five news portals, including websites of two newspapers, were banned.

Readers can still access to web-sites from abroad, but the news portals lose most of their traffic because the content is mostly in Turkish. Bypassing the government’s firewall through VPN programs failed to gain popularity among ordinary users.

In a country where traditional news media is tightly controlled, particularly broadcast networks, news portals offer a rare window to a world where the government is not cheered.

engelliweb.com, a web-site that tracks the banned domains, lists 8 news portals banned since June 29, including two Kurdish news portals. Other banned web-sites included several porn and adult dating sites.

According to the engelliweb.com, access to 111,911 web-sites is currently banned in Turkey. 94.1 percent of these restrictions were imposed by the state watchdog. The figures show that the bans picked up the momentum in 2008 and culminated in 2014, when 36,000 web-sites were banned. Nearly 27,000 web-sites were banned last year.

Freedom House, a Washington-based think thank, ranked Turkey as ”Not Free” in its latest report on the freedom on the net.