Turkish court bans access to rape reports on convicted national wrestler

A court in the southern Turkish province of Antalya has approved a national wrestler’s appeal for the removal of articles on his rape conviction, citing his right to be forgotten, media outlet Bianet reported on Wednesday.

Articles on Recep Çakır in several news websites - including those of newspapers Yeni Şafak, Hürriyet, Takvim and Sabah - were included in the ban, Bianet said, citing cyber rights group Blocked Web.

The right to erasure - an individual's rights to request deletion of their personal data  - does not include matters of public interest, and favours freedom of expression over the right to privacy of criminals, human rights lawyer Kerem Altıparmak told Bianet.

The right in question entered the Turkish public sphere after parliament passed a new law on social media in July.

But the concept is not new to Turkish law, Altıparmak said.

“The new law introduced the removal of content,” Altıparmak said, whereas courts only had the right to block access from Turkey beforehand. News websites will have to comply, or face increasingly hefty fines.

The concept introduced in the new law should not be viewed as the right to be forgotten, Altıparmak said, but as censorship made mandatory.

Çakır had faced trial in 2008, and was sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison on sexual assault charges in 2012.

According to a 2012 report by Hürriyet newspaper, Çakır took a 23-year-old woman from his hometown of Korkuteli in Antalya to a nearby grove and attempted to rape her, assaulting the young woman using his hands.

Five people were issued prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years for aiding the wrestler in the assault.

The implementation of the right to forgotten in such a fresh case for the public will make it more difficult to be monitor of repeat offenders, Altıparmak said.

Public good trumps the right to privacy in cases of violent crime, the human rights expert said, adding, “If he had been cleared, then we would have been speaking very differently.”

As the matter took place in the recent past, there is still public benefit in “enabling people who interact with him to protect themselves,” Altıparmak said.

After the law passed, AKP Deputy Chairman Mahir Ünal said it did not aim to introduce obstacles against freedom of speech, but to protect “fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens who are users of social networks and preventing disinformation.”

“All news that the government and politicians do not like retrospectively will be deleted and the past will be cleared,” cyber rights lawyer and activist Yaman Akdeniz said at the time. “That's the goal, not to protect citizens.”

Access to a women’s news website was recently banned by a Turkish court after it published articles on an army sergeant who sexually assaulted a young woman.

Moreover, articles on Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar visiting a cemetery were removed from news websites upon appeal.

Meanwhile, union and labour news outlet Sendika.org has had its domain banned for a total of 63 times, as evidenced by the outlet’s latest address, sendika63.org.

More than 18,000 people faced investigations over social media posts in 2018, according to an Interior Ministry report.