Turkey detains 27 X users on allegations of fomenting enmity, spreading disinformation

Journalist Batuhan Çolak

Turkish police have detained 27 people including a number of journalists on allegations of fomenting enmity and hatred and spreading disinformation on their X social media accounts, the Bianet news website reported.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said in a statement on Wednesday that the detention of the 27 people took place following simultaneous raids across 14 provinces.

The detainees include the administrators of the Aykırı Haber, Ajans Muhbir and Haber Report news platforms on X, formerly known as Twitter. The three platforms have a wide readership on X, with Aykırı having as many as 750,000 followers. They also cover news about refugees in the country and have exhibited an anti-refugee stance.

A statement from the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said the investigation into the 27 people was launched based on a search of open sources on the internet.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted last week about an impending operation against the social media users, saying his government would not allow “several charlatans that get organized on social media to turn the country into a fireplace.”

Meanwhile, lawyer Hüseyin Ersöz said on X that the detention of the journalists was a violation of freedom of the press. He said the minimum sentence given in the event of committing the crime of fomenting enmity and hatred among the public is one-and-a-half years and that journalists cannot be detained on charges of this crime. He said a person would not go to jail even if they committed this crime because it is a short sentence.

The lawyer also said in order for this crime to be committed, there has to be an imminent threat to public safety, which is lacking in this case.

Turkey’s parliament in October 2022 approved a tough pre-election law that could see reporters and social media users jailed for up to three years for spreading “fake news.”

The rules cemented the government’s already-firm grip on the media months before the general and presidential electons of May 2023 which resulted in the re-election of President Erdoğan.

The Council of Europe said the measure’s vague definition of “disinformation” and accompanying threat of prison could have a “chilling effect and increased self-censorship, not least in view of the then-upcoming elections.

Most Turkish newspapers and television stations fell under the control of government officials and their business allies during a sweeping crackdown that followed a failed coup in 2016.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 165th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

But social networks and internet-based media remained largely free of oversight — much to the growing annoyance of Erdoğan.

This began to change when Turkey used the threat of harsh penalties to force giants such as Facebook and Twitter to appoint local representatives who can quickly comply with local court orders to take down contentious posts.

Erdoğan began to argue at around the same time that Turkey’s highly polarized society was particularly vulnerable to fake and misleading news.

Social media has “turned into one of the main threats to today’s democracy,” Erdoğan said in December 2021.

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