Turkey has blocked access to WikiLeaks, the country’s telecom watchdog said Wednesday, only hours after the site leaked thousands of emails from the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
As the country grapples with the fallout from a failed coup attempt, a senior Turkish official told The Guardian the ban had been imposed on WikiLeaks because the emails constituted stolen or illegally obtained information.
Turkey has frequently banned social media in response to political events, a tactic many civil libertarians see as muzzling free speech just when it is needed most.
WikiLeaks said the nearly 300,000 emails from the AKP Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were obtained a week before the coup but publications was moved up “in response to the government’s post-coup purges.” The emails date from 2010 to July 6th of this year.
“We have verified the material and the source, who is not connected, in any way, to the elements behind the attempted coup, or to a rival political party or state,” WikiLeaks said on its website.
Nearly 18,500 people — including many police, army, judiciary, and educators — have been detained or suspended in the wake of the failed coup, the Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson reported from Istanbul.
The government’s crackdown, which also includes a ban on academics going abroad, has particularly focused on alleged ties to Fethullah Gülen, a cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Mr. Gülen, a onetime ally of Erdoğan who had a falling out with the president three years ago, has strongly denied responsibility for the coup.
More than 1,400 emails focused on Mr. Gülen and what the Turkish government has called the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, or FETÖ, according to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks’ release of the emails also comes at a tense time for relations between the United States and Turkey, a NATO member and a potential ally in a fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State to Turkey’s south in Syria.
One editor of a pro-AKP newspaper charged that the US was “behind the coup” and attempted to kill President Erdoğan, as the Monitor's Howard LaFranchi reported. As anti-American sentiment has mounted, the US secretary of State said Washington supported pursuing justice against the coup’s perpetrators, “but we also caution against a reach that goes beyond that.”
WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, has particularly focused on publishing government materials, sometimes proving to be a thorn in the side of government officials in the process. In 2010, it released a trove of US military and diplomatic cables that was one of the largest information leaks in US history.
The material offered “an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world [and] brutally candid views of foreign leaders,” The New York Times wrote in 2010.
The AKP emails could potentially shed more light on Turkey’s relationship with the US, particularly a series of lobbying efforts the Turkish government has launched urging a crackdown on US-based followers of Gülen.
Lee Fang, an investigative journalist at the Intercept, tweeted on Tuesday that one email released by WikiLeaks mentions Dennis Hastert, the former House Speaker who was convicted on felony charges in April. Mr. Hastert, an Illinois Republican, and others at his firm began lobbying for the Turkish government in 2009, The Hill reported.
On Wednesday morning, WikiLeaks said on Twitter that Turkish users who are blocked from the site “can use a proxy or any of our IPs” to get access to the documents.