Turkey has blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of the social network for spreading links to recordings that appear to incriminate him and other top officials in corruption.
Turkey has previously blocked access to YouTube, but it is the first ban on Twitter, which is hugely popular in the country and was instrumental in organising flash protests against the government last year.
Uproar over the recordings has damaged the government’s reputation ahead of local elections this month.
In one recording a voice resembling Mr Erdogan’s instructs his son to dispose of large amounts of cash from a residence amid a police investigation. The ban comes amid rumours and news reports that even more damaging recordings are about to emerge.
Despite the ban, tech-savvy users managed to tweet links to the recordings. President Abdullah Gul, a political ally of Mr Erdogan’s, was among those who circumvented the order in a series of tweets. “I hope this implementation won’t last long,” he wrote.
Many, although not all, users trying to access the network instead saw a notice from Turkey’s telecommunications authority, citing four court orders.
Twitter’s @policy account earlier sent out messages telling Turkish users in both English and Turkish they could send out tweets by using the short message service, or SMS. It was unclear how those tweets would be viewable.
European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes criticised the Twitter ban in Turkey – a country that wants to join the EU – as “groundless, pointless, cowardly”. Stefan Fule, the EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, said he was concerned.
Lutfi Elvan, the Turkish minister in charge of transport and communications, said his office was merely obeying court orders. The telecommunications authority accused Twitter of violating “personal rights and the confidentiality of private lives”.