updated 3/8/2007 7:15:26 PM ET 2007-03-09T00:15:26

Four college students asked a court Thursday to revoke the ban it imposed on YouTube for running videos that prosecutors said insulted the founder of modern Turkey.

The group condemned the videos in question but said blocking access to the Web site violated their rights to free speech, the private Turkish news agency Dogan reported.

“Banning access to the Web site does not punish those who did that (posted the videos) but the citizens of the Turkish republic,” said student Kursat Cetinkoz, reading from a petition the group submitted to the court in Istanbul.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman declined to comment on the ban, telling a news conference it was a court matter.

Insulting the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is a crime in Turkey punishable by prison.

The press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders also condemned the ban, saying it was a disproportionate response.

“Blocking all access to a video-sharing site because of a few videos that are considered offensive is a radical and inappropriate measure,” the group said. “We hope the Turkish courts will behave with moderation, especially as regards presumed attacks on Turkish identity.”

Turk Telekom, the country’s largest telecommunications provider, immediately began enforcing the ban Wednesday. Those who tried to access the YouTube site from Turkey encountered the message: “Access to this site has been blocked by a court decision!...”

“We are not in the position of saying that what YouTube did was an insult, that it was right or wrong,” the head of Turk Telekom, Paul Doany, told the state-run Anatolia news agency. “A court decision was proposed to us, and we are doing what that court decision says.”

A message in both Turkish and English at the bottom of the page said, “Access to www.youtube.com site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/384 dated 06.03.2007 of Istanbul First Criminal Peace Court.”

Court sets condition
The court — acting on a petition from Turk Telekom — ruled later Wednesday that it would revoke the ban as soon as it ascertained that the offending videos had been removed from YouTube. YouTube is owned by internet search engine giant Google.

In recent days, Turkish media publicized what some called a “virtual war” between Greeks and Turks on YouTube, with both sides posting videos to belittle and berate the other.

The video prompting the ban allegedly said Ataturk and the Turkish people were homosexuals, news reports said. The CNN-Turk Web site featured a link allowing Turks to complain directly to YouTube about the “insult.”

On its front page on Wednesday, the newspaper Hurriyet said thousands of people had e-mailed YouTube and that the Ataturk videos had been removed from the site. “YouTube got the message,” the headline said.

Turkey, which hopes to join the European Union, has been roundly condemned for not doing enough to curb extreme nationalist sentiments and to protect freedom of expression.

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