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Globe editorial: Erdogan’s ban on Wikipedia another example of his campaign against free speech

Wikipedia has entries for every Ottoman sultan. There is Mehmed the Conqueror, Suleiman the Magnificent, and even lesser known grandees such as Selim the Blond.

To this list, the site may soon have to add Erdogan the Censor. Not that anyone in Turkey would notice.

Since last April, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic regime has blocked the digital encyclopedia in his country for being part of a “smear campaign” against Turkey.

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The government said it objected to content on Wikipedia presenting Turkey as a terror supporter, but the particular offence hardly matters: Mr. Erdogan has been such a consistent and egregious foe of free expression that it would surprising if he had failed to interfere with the site.

Wikipedia recently launched a public campaign to get the site back online, with the slogan We Miss Turkey.

They’ll be lucky to get anywhere. Mr. Erdogan has become shameless about blocking access to websites and needling their administrators to remove controversial content, according to the website Turkey Blocks.

That crackdown is part of a much larger and nastier campaign against critics of the government launched in the wake of a failed coup in 2016. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkey has jailed more than 150 media workers in recent years. Just last month, a Turkish court sentenced three prominent journalists to life in prison for alleged involvement in the coup attempt.

Mr. Erdogan’s turn to autocracy, crystallized by his victory in a referendum last year that consolidated his power, has been tragic for a country that just over a decade ago was en route to joining the European Union.

Where does Wikipedia fit into all of this? It is easy to mock, full of errors large and small. But at its best, what a miracle the site is. As a repository of the world’s knowledge, it makes the Library of Alexandria (which has a solid Wikipedia page of its own) look like a curbside book bin.

Among the more than 300,000 Turkish-language Wikipedia entries, you can read about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

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Unless, that is, you live in Turkey. Mr. Erdogan is deliberately undoing Ataturk’s vision of a progressive, secular and open state. It’s clear he would prefer that no one in his country discuss that subject.

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