An otherwise staid hearing on Internet freedom and repressive regimes turned nearly salacious for a moment Friday when Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., questioned a State Department official about a list of words the Turkish government recently tried to ban from Turkish websites.
The Turkish Telecommunications Directorate, or TIB, sent a list of 138 words to Turkish Internet providers in April, asking them to voluntarily block sites that contained the words and threatening fines if they didn't cooperate with future government requests to remove specific sites. The government's authority to enforce the censorship is murky, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported.
"I don't know what any of the words are; do you know any of them?" Cohen asked Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Daniel Baer.
Baer declined to list any specific words.
"It's meant to filter out obscenities, but obviously 138 is a large number of words," Baer said. "The fact is they've blocked over 5,000 websites in Turkey. We have serious concerns about Internet freedom in Turkey and media freedom generally. Over 70 journalists are imprisoned there."
Turkey has historically been a secular and Western-looking nation since its establishment under Mustafa Kemal AtatÃ¼rk in the 1920s, but the country's commitment to democratic reforms has been questioned in recent years.
According to Hurriyet, the 138 banned words include the English words: "'beat,' 'escort,' 'homemade,' 'hot,' 'nubile,' 'free' and 'teen.'"
"Some other English words would also be banned because of their meanings in Turkish," the newspaper reported.
"'Pic,' short for picture, is banned because it means 'bastard' in Turkish," the newspaper said. "The past tense of the verb 'get' is also banned because 'got' means 'butt' in Turkish."