HRW: Turkish gov’t has reached ‘new low’ with social media crackdown

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized the Turkish government for prosecuting large numbers of people in recent weeks over social media posts protesting Turkey’s military operation in northwestern Syria, saying the crackdown violates the right to peaceful expression and that the “absurd” cases should be dropped.

“Detaining and prosecuting people for tweets calling for peace is a new low for Turkey’s government,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkish authorities should respect people’s right to peacefully criticize any aspect of government policy, including military operations, and drop these absurd cases.”

Turkish police have detained hundreds of people for posting opinions on social media on the military’s cross-border operation in Afrin, HRW said in a report. The report examined five cases in detail and concluded that police raids are being used as punishment for those who peacefully dissent rather than any genuine belief that a crime had been committed.

The cases examined were those of Ahval contributor Nurcan Baysal, a journalist and rights activist; Mehmet Türkmen, the deputy head of leftist group EMEP; Ali Erol, the founder of an LGBTI rights group; Sibel Tekin, a documentary filmmaker; and Kutay Meriç, a senior member at activist group Halk Evleri.

“Even if a case does not go to trial or ends in acquittal, people labelled as terrorism suspects face adverse consequences due to police investigations and criminal proceedings, including possible loss of employment and social exclusion,” HRW said.

Turkish troops and their Islamist Syrian allies captured the town of Afrin on March 18 after a two-month offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkish leaders say offensive operations will continue against other Kurdish-held areas on its border.

Meanwhile, a Turkish prosecutor has demanded a prison sentence for musician and writer Ferhat Tunç on charges of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” in his social media posts. Tunç, against whom three lawsuits have been filed due to his social media posts, appeared in court on Tuesday.

According to a report by Bianet, in the hearing held at the İstanbul 36th High Criminal Court prosecutor Hasan Adalı presented his dictum as to the accusations. Adalı demanded a penalty for Tunç as per Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law as well as an increase in penalty on the grounds of a “successive offence.”

In a statement concerning the charges Tunç said they were “ill-intended” and added: “I am aware of that my social media posts are in contrast with the Kurdish policy of the current government. I am of the opinion that my posts are within freedom of thought and expression.”

As the trial has been adjourned until May 3, 2018, the Danish-based international organization World Forum on Music and Censorship (Freemuse) has launched an international campaign for the dismissal of the lawsuits brought against Tunç. The organization’s petition campaign is ongoing.

According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, authorities detained 648 people between Jan. 20 and Feb. 26, over social media posts criticizing Turkey’s military operations in Afrin. Authorities held another 197 people for expressing criticism in other forms, including street protests or expressing solidarity with protesters on social media.

The Turkish government has initiated legal proceedings against 259 people following an operation against social media propaganda, after examining 783 social media accounts through the cybercrime division of the police during the week of March 19-26, according to a written statement released by the Turkish Interior Ministry on Monday.

The Interior Ministry has indicated that more criminal investigations have been opened since the end of February. (SCF with

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