Harlem Désir, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, has turned to the authorities of Turkey on Wednesday to strongly contest the detention of hundreds of social media users for expressing their critical views on the Afrin operations in Syria.
“Detention for expressing one’s dissenting views on social media, including on military operations, is unacceptable. I request the authorities to reconsider such practice,” Désir said in a written statement.
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, as many as 449 people were detained and charged with propaganda for terrorism for their social media posts on Turkey’s recent military operations in Afrin. Media also reported that in many cases detainees were only released under specific conditions such as restrictions to travel abroad or drive a vehicle. Several are still in detention.
Désir emphasized in a letter to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on February 6 that creating an environment restrictive to freedom of expression can only weaken democratic societies.
“Disagreeing with actions taken by the government should not be punished with imprisonment. Freedom of expression must be respected, even in times of conflict or war,” Désir added on Wednesday.
“Security concerns should not lead to disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms. I call on Turkey to reverse the current approach toward critical expressions, release those detained arbitrarily and drop the charges against them,” he said.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL militants from Afrin, northwestern Syria. According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as “to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.”