Twitter users in Turkey reported widespread outages on Friday, hours after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened to shut down the social media platform as he battles a damaging corruption scandal.
Some users trying to open the Twitter.com website were taken to a statement apparently from Turkey's telecommunications regulator, TIB. The statement cited four court orders as the basis for blocking the site, where some users in recent weeks have posted voice recordings and documents purportedly showing evidence of corruption among Erdogan's inner circle.
“Twitter, mwitter!,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at a rally ahead of March 30 local elections late on Thursday, in a phrase translating roughly as “Twitter, schmitter!”
"We will wipe out all of these," said Erdogan, who has said the corruption scandal is part of a smear campaign by his political enemies.
"The international community can say this, can say that. I don't care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is," Erdogan said.
The European Union Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes tweeted that the ban in Turkey "is groundless, pointless, cowardly." She added that the "Turkish people and international community will see this as censorship. It is."
Erdogan said two weeks ago that Turkey could ban Facebook and YouTube, which he says have been abused by his enemies after a stream of audio recordings purportedly revealing corruption in his inner circle emerged online.
President Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of Erdogan's ruling AK Party who is seen as a more conciliatory figure, later ruled out any such move. But the corruption scandal, and attempts to quash it, have further polarized Turkish society and raised the stakes in local elections now widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan's rule.
The latest twist — striking out against Twitter — disappointed and angered some Turks.
"As a Turkish citizen and a publisher, İ am against any kind of censorship and İ protest this interference to freedom of speech and communication," Nazlı Berivan Ak told Al Jazeera, adding that the social media site had been down since midnight local time.
Twitter said on Thursday that it is looking into reports that its service has been banned in Turkey, and published a message on its service advising users in Turkey that it was possible to send tweets using mobile phone text messaging.
Erdogan’s office later said in a statement that he was referring to what it called Twitter's failure to implement Turkish court orders seeking the removal of some links and that they may be left with no option but to ban the platform.
"If Twitter officials insist on not implementing court orders and rules of law ... there will be no other option but to prevent access to Twitter to help satisfy our citizens' grievances," the statement said.
Al Jazeera and Reuters