A delegation of Turkish judges and prosecutors touring Las Vegas on Friday delved into matters of Internet freedom, an issue that recently thrust Turkey’s leadership into international headlines.
Last month, Turkey’s highest court lifted a two-week ban on Twitter that had been imposed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Meanwhile, YouTube remains blocked in the country.
“Turkey technologically cannot prevent access to a particular page on YouTube or Twitter, so they decided to ban access to the entire site,” Bulent Agkoc, a family court judge in Istanbul, told the Review-Journal through a translator.
Explaining why the sites were blocked, Agkoc continued: “Some say for political reasons, some say for a right to privacy.”
News reports have said that Erdogan vowed to “eradicate” Twitter after recordings that incriminated him in corruption appeared on the social media site.
With U.S. District Judge Lloyd D. George as host, the Turkish court leaders — five men and one woman — spent a week in Las Vegas as part of the Open World Program, established by Congress in 1999 to enhance communication between American and Eurasian leaders.
The delegation said Turkish courts are expected to hear arguments on a request to lift the YouTube ban.
During their visit, the group met with judges, attorneys and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. They visited the Review-Journal after touring civil and criminal courts at the federal and state levels and Boyd Law School at UNLV.
At the newspaper offices, the group discussed social media and court reporting.
In Nevada, reporters are allowed to electronically record state court proceedings, but recording devices are typically banned in federal courts. Turkish journalists are permitted to live tweet from courtrooms, the delegation said, but cannot take photos or video.
Cevat Merk Koparal, a public prosecutor in the organized crime bureau in Izmir, a port city in western Turkey, steered part of the hourlong discussion to Nevada’s judicial election system. Turkish judges and prosecutors are appointed by a high council of judges.
“It is very interesting to us, your system, because we’ve never heard of judges being elected,” Koparal said through a translator.
He was concerned that campaign contributions could lead to corruption in the judicial system, and asked Review-Journal editor Michael Hengel for the newspaper’s opinion.
“I think the systems are flawed, but our stance has always been that we support the whole concept of elected judges,” Hengel said.
“Flawed as both systems are, this is better.”