Istanbul, Turkey 2014

I spent the first week of September 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey to attend the 9th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2014. It was a sponsored trip set up by the people from LoyarBurok.

My trip was sponsored by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). I was given a nice room (with 2 single beds!) at Ramada Hotel, Sisli and allowance for a week. It goes for 200 Euro a night /(*O*)\. I certainly won’t be able to afford it myself!

There were a few other lawyers being sponsored from my region. They were Asep from Indonesia, Prof Harry from Philippines and Ei Maung from Myanmar. We tagged along Freedom House delegates from various regions such as Azerbaijan, Uganda, Venezuela, Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Turkey , Sudan, Pakistan, China, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Chile. Freedom House is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.

I took the opportunity to meet up with Handan, one of the lawyers whom I met when I attended the Multilaw Academy in Chiang Mai. She and her husband, Talip, brought me around Istanbul. Other than meeting IP lawyers, I always take the opportunity to meet my Multilaw friends. It is always great to catch up with old friends.

Journey to Turkey
My flight to Istanbul was delayed for 9 hours.

I didn’t know about it until I arrived at KLIA. MAS offered us a free room but when I realised that it’s in Shah Alam – 40 minutes away – I decided to go home instead.

One consolation I got from this delay is that I get to see my wife & Livia for few more hours. Another consolation was that I found out that I left my laptop charger at home. Phew.

I took a short nap before heading to KL Sentral at 515am. There I was told that my flight is delayed another 2 hours *silent scream*

After a 11+ hour flight, I finally touched down Istanbul. The airport was pretty small and hence nothing much to see. My taxi to my hotel took about half an hour and it costs 50 Lira.

Turkey Legal Practice

I took some time off to visit a law firm called Moroglu Arsevan located at Istiklal Avenue. I know this firm during my time in the old firm. Handan used to work here.

Glass with books visible at the background. Love this design.

Perched at the 12th floor, this firm has a good view of Istanbul.

They recently renovated the office hence everything looks brand new. It’s all about steel, glass and wood and industrial look. I was pretty awed by it.

This is the sign at their entrance at the 6th floor. However, there’s no reception. It’s all office desks and rooms. Lawyers and staff sit together in a cubicle of 4 tables whereas partners get their own rooms.

I always make it a point to visit a law firm whenever I visit a country. One senior IP lawyer once said, “In IP practice, you will never go without a meal in a country. Just call one of your fellow IP lawyers there”. Very true, everyone I met was keen to buy drinks and food!

The lawyer I met today was one of the founding partners. We spoke about business and current affairs.

The partner told me that they hardly have trade mark filings in Malaysia. Most Turkish businesses prefer to invest or trade with countries near them such as Middle East. This firm did my client’s trade mark filing in Turkey. Malaysians are good at expanding our businesses.

I am told that Istanbul has 40,000 lawyers – 4 times the amount of lawyers in Kuala Lumpur. Competition between lawyers is quite stiff here.

Handan just opened a branch office of her father’s firm from Izmir (third most populous city in Turkey) couple months ago. It’s called Diri Hukuk. I saw some Turkish law firms using the word Hukuk as part of their name. Dictionary says it means “in-law”. Perhaps something like Attorney-in-Law.

Handan’s sister and her husbands are lawyers too. Her sister works in a big Turkish firm whereas her husband runs her own firm. After talking to my Turkish lawyers friends, I realise that our legal practice is not much different from theirs. Young associates will work long hours and give up their social life for work. Senior associates will hang on to their firm waiting to be made a partner or set up their own law firm. Lawyers will need to go out to do “marketing” to bring in businesses to the firm.

Internet Governance Forum
The Internet Governance Forum is an annual gathering of Internet regulators and technical experts. Various workshops are held and private meetings are made in the Istanbul Convention & Exhibition Centre (ICEC).

Inside ICEC

The ICEC is next to a park and a military museum. One thing I liked about the place is the view that I get while walking to the ICEC.

Cats are everywhere in this park.

Although I am a big fan of all things Internet related, the workshops were beyond me. It’s either I have no idea what they were talking about or extremely boring. I don’t think there was a a workshop talking about cyberlaw!

The first workshop I attended had a wide number of participants from many countries. Everyone had to give a short introduction about themselves and how they are feeling today.

I said, “Hello, I’m Foong from Malaysia. I’m a lawyer”

The MC then said, “You feeling lawyer today?” -_-

Large conference going on.

Translators’ booths. Translations are done real time. Speeches are also taken down verbatim. Impressive.

Most of my time were spent in the meetings organised by Freedom House.

Freedom House Delegates

I had an enjoyable time with this group of people. However, it was a big group and I did not manage to mingle with everyone of them. Most of them are activists running their own NGOs or part of a NGO. Some are friendly, some are reserved, many outspoken (thus silencing the lawyers) and some are missing from meetings all the time.

Last meeting with the people with Freedom House

Freedom House organised many private meetings with civil society organisations such as Internet Society and even businesses such as Twitter, Google and Facebook. I must say that the Twitter meeting was most interesting. I tweeted some points made by the public policy representative from Twitter:-

  • Twitter is a work in progress
  • Twitter does transparency report every 6 months. Second company to do this after Google
  • Twitter has the technology to withhold content to a certain country
  • Twitter when needed to remove content, it will put a grey box at the tweet to state that the content may run afoul of the law
  • Court orders against Twitter are sent to for publication
  • Although content is withheld to a country, Twitter’s geolocation technology may not be correct. But users may correct its geolocation
  • In some countries, some may need to use pseudonym to speak securely
  • Twitter is stingy with sharing user information with Government
  • Twitter do give information if due process is followed
  • Twitter is serving 500 millions tweets a day
  • Twitter gets Government request that is against their Terms of Service. They enforce the latter around the world.
  • Twitter sometimes get state sponsored attacks on their system
  • Twitter opens offices in countries for economic reasons. It is purely business
  • Recent office is Jakarta, Indonesia. It has a lot of Twitter users. Opening in 6 months. It’s for sales n business development
  • Twitter does not have the ability to censor hashtags
  • Twitter’s transparency report is getting more detailed. We are trying to expand it more
  • Largest problem with removal of content is spam. Unsolicited commercial tweets
  • Twitter’s teams are highly trained to deal with sensitive content and not outsourced.
  • Intermediary liability – Twitter tries but their team is small. They usually work with other companies when dealing with other Government
  • When request comes n Twitter disagrees, Government will have to decide whether to get a Court order
  • New law in Turkey compels Twitter to take action within 4 hours failing which they may be blocked again – see Turkish Law No. 5651 (see page 6 Freedom House’s Report)
  • When we get a request for removal/user info, Twitter will notify user and let them choose to seek legal counsel eg Wikileaks
  • In US, Twitter user filed Court action against request for their information
  • SMS to Twitter service – Sudan delegate thinks Sudan government has blocked it.
  • Data localisation – our servers are only in the US. Surprisingly to Twitter it will put any servers in Russia
  • We also met some people from the public policy department of Google. We had an interesting discussion. From what I can remember:-

  • Google does not reveal user content in any circumstances unless due process is followed.
  • They engage Government quietly when dealing with controversial policies or laws. They usually don’t go direct but through an association. When I asked one of them about our #stop114A movement and why Google wasn’t openly opposing it, he said he couldn’t remember or perhaps they did engage the Government quietly.
  • Any Court order for user information or data must come from US Courts.
  • Google funds some civil society organisations.
  • They have someone in South East Asia to look at policies.

  • Dinner with Google

    We had dinner with the Google guys at a nice place called Cezayir, near Istiklal Avenue. We had to go through a long flight of a stairs to get to the restaurant.

    I think the most important part of the meeting was establishment of new networks. For example, if a Government decides to impose a new law that affects internet freedom, I can easily get in touch with the public policy department of the big boys to work something out.

    I spent most of my time with my ABA ROLI delegates (i.e the lawyers). I learned that Prof Harry does a lot of interesting work like challenging the constitutionality of Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and prosecuting those involved in the Maguindanao Massacre. Asep on the other hand was involved in the Indonesian case of Florence Sihombing. Florence was arrested and charged in Court after she posted a comment online insulting the city of Yogyakarta. Program Director of ABA ROLI, Mark, did a good job organising us. Mark will be moving to Bangkok from Washington to manage projects in the South East Asia. I am told that ABA has a Thailand office.

    I brought Mark, Prof Harry and Ei Maung around Istiklal Avenue when we attended Freedom House’s reception at the rooftop of Mama Shelter Hotel. There was a restaurant and bar on the roof top. However, there was only finger food so the four of us decided to have dinner nearby. I brought them to a place called Şampiyon Kokoreç to eat local Turkish food. I knew about the place cause Handan and Talip brought me the day before.

    3 of us – #wefie

    We saw a group of people protesting against the Israeli oppression of Gaza. They were holding hands and chanting.

    Turkish Coffee and Chai

    Turkish coffee is an acquired taste. It’s like light espresso with coffee residue. It’s thick and slightly bitter. Sugar is optional but there’s no milk. The thickness is caused by floating coffee grounds. I’m not a big fan of it but since I’m in Turkey, I made it a mission to drink it everyday. There’s a special way to make it. Coffee beans are grinded and then boiled.

    I bought some coffee beans back and made them into piccolo latte (double shot with some frothed milk). It still has the Turkish coffee taste but a little milder. It actually tasted better.

    Surprisingly, I prefer to drink their chai (black tea). It comes in a small glass and usually served after a meal. Sugar is optional. It’s refreshing.

    Touring Istanbul

    On my first night in Istanbul, Handan and Talip brought me to a kebab place called Kasibeyaz. We drove alongside the coast to get to the place. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco as the place was pretty hilly.

    The restaurant had a rather strange looking design. The walls were white and ceramic like. I was the only Asian there.

    Food was interesting. I had so much that I was about to explode. They ordered a drink called Raki, a famous Turkish alcoholic drink, for me. It’s colourless until you pour water on it. They kept the drink cool by putting it in a pot with ice. However, I didn’t like it because of the taste of sambuca. Sambuca brings back many terrible memories. Something to do with vomit going up my nose.

    We had baklava and Turkish ice cream for dessert. I love Turkish ice cream’s tough and gluey texture.

    We ended the night with Turkish coffee. We sat by the open area of the restaurant and it was pretty cold. The waiters gave us Kasibeyaz branded blankets to keep us warm.

    On the next day, Handan and Talip picked me up from the hotel to tour Istanbul city.

    We parked at Taksim Sq and walked along İstiklal Avenue. The avenue is a long and wide street with tall buildings covering every inch of the side walk. It reminded me of Vienna. Talip said that her grandma told him that people who walks on this street will dress their best. However, it’s no longer like that now.

    “People mountain, people sea” (人山人海) (Chinese proverb)

    Probably the narrowest shop on Istiklal Avenue

    #wefie on Istiklal Avenue

    The avenue is so long that it makes sense to take a tram.

    While on the avenue, I bought Turkish coffee beans and local chocolates. We even visited a small old mosque. I thought I couldn’t get into the mosque cause I’m not Muslim. Talip said that’s no such rule in Turkey.

    Handan and Talip recommended that I try this mussel and lemon. It was very nice.

    Once we got to the Galata Tower, we found that the queue was extremely long. I was told that there’s a great view of Istanbul up there

    So we walked to this place called Balkon which also has the same view. This place however has no queue and there was beer!

    Balkon is located on top of a building with unobstructed view of the city. I ordered Efes beer, a Turkish beer and had some peanuts.

    Few blocks from Balkon lies the second oldest subway station in the world called “The Tunnel”. We took the the subway to the Eminönü neighborhood. It was very, very short. Less than 2 minutes probably.

    You can see the tunnel quiet clearly and it was lighted brightly.

    We spent sometime looking the Eminönü neighborhood.

    We crossed the Galata Bridge to get to the other side. There were many people fishing and some even caught fishes. However, the fishes were pretty small. There were also stalls selling fishing wares.

    The Eminönü Mosque. It looks huge from outside but it’s actually quite small inside. It’s one of the many ancient mosques there.

    Great details on the design. Photography is allowed inside the mosque. Talip brought me into the mosque while Handan had to hang out outside cause she was wearing shorts.

    We had dinner at a place called Fasuli. It’s well known for its “dried beans”. It’s like oily baked beans to me. You can eat it with rice or pickles.

    I couldn’t finish it as I was full and jet lagged. Handan said that when she was a kid, her mother used to say that the amount of leftover rice represents the amount of children you will have. I told her that Chinese believes that amount of leftover rice represents the amount of pimples on your future spouse’s face.

    Dessert. Looks like creme brule but it’s actually condensed milk below. Very sweet.

    We ended the night at Dolmabahce cafe with Turkish coffee. This alfresco cafe is located next to the Dolmabahce Palace with a view of the Bosphorus strait. It’s packed with people and the seats are free for all. We literally had to fight for a seat.

    Handan and Talip told me that Turkish people sometimes read their fortunes from coffee residue. One has to flip the cup onto the plate and let the residue cool down. You can read about your future from the shape of the coffee stains.

    Few hours before my flight home, I met up with Handan and Talip for drinks during the evening. I visited Talip’s store at Osmanbei, a place where many clothing wholesale businesses gather. Talip’s family run a wholesale business and they sell their stuff to places like Russia and Ukraine.

    Osmanbei area

    They have really unique designs and they are apparently very popular in those countries (sold out!).

    This is part of their winter season collection.

    They design and produce their own clothes. They have an inhouse designer, tailor etc. This is where they cut their fabric.

    Talip’s shop. You can’t walk in to buy a piece by the way. They only do wholesale in this shop.

    First time holding this type of scissors. It is quite heavy.

    This is the name of their brand. Talip had kindly presented my wife one of their dresses.

    Here’s Talip waving goodbye to me. Real nice chap.

    Handan walked me to my hotel after that. While bidding farewell, she said kiss your baby for me. I wonder if this is a common expression in the Turkish language.

    Turkey gotta be one of my newest favourite place. I would love to come back here again with my family!

    P/S: You can read my day to day postings on Turkey on my Dayre.