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Article Turkey: Certain Words Banned from Domain Names

(May 10, 2011) On April 28, 2011, Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate (Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı, or TİB), under the Information and Communication Technologies Authority, sent a list of 138 Turkish and English words to web-hosting companies, banning their use in domain names on the Turkish Internet. Among the banned English words are: “beat,” “escort,” “homemade,” “hot,” “nubile,” “free” and “teen.” Certain other English words are banned because they have a different meaning in Turkish: e.g., “pic,” short for picture, means “bastard”; “got,” the past tense of “get,” means “butt”; Haydar, a very common male name among Turkey’s Alevi minority group, is banned because it is slang for penis. Other banned words include “gay” and “gey” (the Turkish pronunciation), “çıplak” (naked), “itiraf” (confession), “liseli” (high school student), and “nefes” (breath). Even the Turkish word for “forbidden” (yasak) is itself listed as a banned word. (Turkey Forbids ‘Forbidden’ from Internet Domain Names, HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS (Apr. 29, 2011).)

The TİB contended, after its action was met with heated debate, that the list was sent to the companies for informational purposes. That statement only served to create further confusion, however, because in the letter sent with the list the TIB had “threatened companies with punishment if they did not obey its directions regarding the list.” (TİB’s ‘Forbidden Words List’ Inconsistent with Law, Say Turkish Web Providers, HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS (Apr. 29, 2011).) According to the Turkish newspaper HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS, the government decision might result in the closure of many websites. By way of example it mentions the websites “” (, whose domain name has the banned Turkish word “animal,” and “,” (, which has the word for “anal” in it. Websites with the number 31 in the domain name would also face being shut down, the newspaper noted, because 31 is Turkish slang for male masturbation. (Id.)

Law professor and cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz questioned the legality of the TİB’s actions, stating: “[p]roviding a list and urging companies to take action to ban sites that contain the words and threatening to punish them if they don’t has no legal grounds.” Akdeniz further opined that “no authority could decide that an action was illegal just by association,” and added, “[h]osting companies are not responsible for monitoring for illegal activities; their liability arises only if they take no action after being notified by the TİB – or any other party – and are asked to remove certain illegal content.” (Id.) According to Devrim Demirel, founder and CEO of BerilTech, Turkey’s leading domain name and business intelligence company, “[t]he TİB’s action is inconsistent with the related law and bylaw, and its subsequent statement contradicted both the request and the legislation.” He added that the TİB letter, while threatening punishment, failed to specify what kind of punishment was implied, so that “[i]t is still not clear whether there will be administrative or other sanctions.” (Id.)

The TİB based its action on Law 5651, on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publication (commonly referred to as the Internet law or Internet ban law) and related legislation, although that Law does not give the providers the authority to take actions to ban websites. Under article 5 of the Law, the host provider has no general obligation to monitor the content of the websites to which it provides domains or to actively look into whether there are facts or circumstances indicative of illegal activity. However, article 5(2) prescribes that the companies are responsible for removing illegal content when served notice by the TİB and there is the technical possibility of doing so or when they are subject to a court order as stipulated under article 8 of the Law (on website-blocking measures). (Id.; see also Yaman Akdeniz, Report of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media on Turkey and Internet Censorship, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe website (Jan. 11, 2010); İnternet Ortaminda Yapilan Yayinlarin Düzenlenmesi Ve Bu Yayinlar Yoluyla İşlenen Suçlarla Mücadele Edilmesi Hakkinda Kanun [Law on Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of CrimesCommitted by Means of Such Publication], Kanun No. 5651 of May 4, 2007, RESMI GAZETE TARIHI [Official Gazette], No. 26530 (May 23, 2007).)

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