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Google Dodges a Ban in Turkey Over Hostage Photo


ISTANBUL — Google was spared on Tuesday from a recent wave of Internet bans in Turkey after it reportedly complied with a court order to remove links to images of Mehmet Selim Kiraz, a prosecutor who died after leftist militants took him hostage at an Istanbul courthouse last week.

Twitter and YouTube were temporarily blocked in Turkey on Monday after they failed to respond to an order to remove photographs and other content showing one of the hostage takers pointing a gun at Mr. Kiraz's head during the assault.

Senior government officials have criticized the publication of the photographs, branding the images terrorist propaganda and citing the lack of consideration for the victim's family and friends. News outlets that showed the images were not granted access to cover the prosecutor's funeral.

People on social media in Turkey, accustomed to similar bans in recent years, easily circumvented the restriction on Twitter by using services to mask their Internet protocol access points, and in a few hours the hashtag #twitterisblockedinturkey became a trending topic.

Facebook was the first to follow the court's instructions to remove photographs, as well as audio and other visual content related to the episode. The social media site remained accessible from Turkey throughout the legal wrangling.

Access to Twitter was re-established Monday evening. YouTube stayed blocked for a few hours longer.

In a separate court ruling on Monday, the authorities gave Google four hours to comply with the restrictions.

"Google is different from hosting providers like Twitter or YouTube. It is a major search engine," Burcak Unsal, an expert in digital law, said. "It may take days to clear Google content when it gets constantly re-added, so the company must have ensured that it has started the process to evade the ban."

Some see the recent restrictions on the Internet as an early sign of efforts by the governing Justice and Development Party to curb freedom of expression and to silence dissenting voices before national elections in June.

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