ANKARA (AFP) ― Turkey’s prime minister said Saturday he will “go after” Twitter, accusing the site of tax evasion, after it was used to spread damaging leaks implicating his inner circle in corruption claims.
In a televised speech, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also launched a tirade against the nation’s highest court for ruling against a ban on Twitter, charging that it put the rights of businesses above that of Turkey’s.
“Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money,” Erdogan said.
“Twitter is at the same time a tax evader. We will go after it,” he added.
“These companies, like every international company, will abide by my country’s constitution, laws and tax rules.”
Erdogan’s government on March 20 banned access to the social media site over the leaks, sparking outrage among Turkey’s NATO allies and international human rights groups who viewed it as a setback for democracy in the EU-hopeful country.
Ankara had to lift the ban on April 3 after its highest court ruled the blocade breached the right to free speech.
Erdogan again blasted the constitutional court‘s verdict on Saturday, criticising it for “advocating commercial law of international companies instead of defending the rights of its own country and its own people.”
“This amounts to interference in politics,” he said.
“We abided by the (court) ruling on (Twitter), but I say it again, I don’t respect it,” he said.
The ban had been widely circumvented by many of Turkey’s almost 12 million Twitter users ― including President Abdullah Gul ― who have instead sent tweets via text message or by adjusting their Internet settings.
Erdogan’s government also blocked YouTube on March 27 after the popular video sharing site was used to leak a top-secret security meeting of the country’s civilian and military officials discussing war scenarios for neighboring Syria.
Turkish authorities said last week the ban on YouTube would remain in place in defiance of court orders.
Erdogan, Turkey’s strongman premier for 11 years, ordered the Internet curbs in the lead-up to March 30 municipal elections, in which his party chalked up sweeping wins despite the claims of sleaze and graft.
He has blamed online leaks on shadowy supporters of influential U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulen known as Gulenists, many of whom hold key positions in the police and judiciary.
Erdogan’s latest attack against the country’s highest court also comes a day after it annulled the most controversial clause of a law giving the justice ministry greater control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.
The law, which sparked fistfights among lawmakers debating it in parliament, was one of the retaliatory measures taken by Erdogan in the wake of the vast graft scandal which erupted in mid-December implicating his key political and business allies.
Erdogan said Saturday that the court was showing an “increasing appetite for interference in political sphere” while turning a blind eye to the existence of what he called a “parallel structure” within the state, referring to Gulenists.
“I always say it: those who want to do politics should leave their seat, take off their robes and do politics under the roof of political parties,” he said.
“I want everyone to know that that seat or that robe may render you powerful today but you must know that it will harm the country and the people,” he said, in a direct attack at the court‘s judges.
“We will never allow such tensions in our country. Turkey has no tolerance for tensions or non-political interference.”