Turkey was always going to be a contentious venue for this year’s internet governance forum which aims to encourage use of the web.
During the past 12 months, the country’s record on internet freedoms has been judged as ‘abysmal’ by Human Rights Watch.
But as the UN-backed forum opened, participants held back from criticising the Turkish government directly.
Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Thomas Gass, said:
“The human rights apply the same way, you know, online and offline. And so that of course leaves scope for states to legislate. But the basic values, the values of freedom of expression, but that is balanced with the respect of the others and integrity of the others, this balance also has to be ensured on the Internet.”
However Human Rights Watch has decried Turkey’s record on protecting free expression online, saying that tens of thousands of websites have been blocked under recent legislation.
And new legislation passed only in April has expanded the surveillance powers of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT), giving it sweeping powers to amass private data.
Last year Turkey temporarily shut down Twitter and blocked YouTube in the wake of anti-government protests. The government has also described both sites as threats to national security.