Facebook blocks content in Turkey deemed insulting to Prophet Muhammad

Facebook is blocking access to some content in Turkey after a court there determined it to be insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, according to news reports. 

The social media giant was forced to comply with the order to avoid being banned in the country, according to The New York Times.

A Turkish court handed down the order on Sunday night, said the reports, which quoted an unnamed Facebook employee. A person with knowledge of the matter confirmed that Facebook blocked content in Turkey following a "valid legal request." That content remains visible, however, outside the country. 

The move comes weeks after attackers killed 12 people at a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, known for its cartoon depictions of Muhammad, and four others at a Kosher grocery store in Paris.

Platforms including YouTube and Twitter have previously been blocked in Turkey for hosting certain content.

Last year, the two sites were blocked for weeks after posting content of officials apparently discussing possible military action against Syria. In another incident, officials cracked down after telephone recordings were posted, allegedly showing officials engaging in corruption.

According to Facebook's transparency report, the company only takes down content that is "illegal under local law." Those censorship requests are highest in India, Pakistan and Turkey, where local laws prohibit criticism of a religion or the state.

In its latest transparency report, covering the first part of 2014, Facebook said it had removed 1,893 pieces of content in Turkey. It said it receives request primarily from Turkish law enforcement and the Turkish Information and Communications Technologies Authority. 

It said Turkish law covers a "range of offenses" that include defamation of the country's first president and "personal rights violations."

Civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have previously urged Facebook to push back harder against these government requests and at a minimum disclosure more information about them.

"As governments grow aware of the fact that stifling speech is as easy as submitting an order to a corporation, the number of those orders will drastically increase," the group wrote last year. 

Updated at 2:24 p.m.