Turkish gov’t arrests 17, detains 13 people for allegedly promoting terror on social media

The Turkish government on Saturday jailed 17 people and detained 13 over their alleged promotion of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and for allegedly taking part in an online smear campaign against a Turkish military operation in Afrin, northwestern Syria.

According to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, at least 15 people were arrested in Turkey for disseminating terrorist propaganda on social media, judicial sources said Saturday. In southern Muğla province, two people were also detained as part of an investigation into PKK supporters. The suspects were later put in pretrial arrest.

Separately, in the northeastern province of Kars, 13 people were arrested for allegedly taking part in an online smear campaign against Turkish military operations in the Afrin district of northwestern Syria. The detainees were also accused of insulting autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Meanwhile, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement on Saturday that a total of 2,434 People’s Protection Units (YPG)/PKK and alleged Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region,  Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

On Jan. 20 the Turkish military launched Operation Olive Branch to capture Afrin from the YPG. 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.” The military also alleged only “terror targets” are being destroyed and that “utmost care” is being taken to avoid harming civilians.

Meanwhile, Turkish warplanes struck pro-Syrian government forces in the northwestern Afrin region of Syria on Saturday, killing at least 36, as Turkey’s assault in the Kurdish region gathered pace, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pro-Syrian government forces entered Afrin last week in support of the Kurdish YPG militia, the stated target of the operation launched by Turkey and allied Syrian rebel fighters in January.

The Observatory said the air strike, which hit a camp in Kafr Jina, marked the third time in 48 hours that Turkish warplanes had struck pro-government forces in Afrin. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a YPG-led militia alliance, said in a statement that Turkish air strikes had targeted positions held by the Syrian army’s“popular forces.”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Saturday that Turkey’s southeastern border areas have been “cleared of terrorists.”

“Afrin is surrounded. We have cleared all nearby border areas of terror nests,” Yıldırım said during a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial congress in Konya.

He said Turkish soldiers, special forces, gendarmerie forces, police officers, and Free Syrian Army (FSA) are advancing “step by step” in Afrin and added that Turkish soldiers have been conducting “successful” land and air operations. “Our Turkish soldiers are making history in Afrin. They also cleared Rajo [a town in Afrin] of terrorists,” he said.

Yıldırım added Turkey will eliminate any threat to its border security, territorial integrity and the security of life and property. “Wherever there is a terror threat, it is a target for us. Today Afrin, tomorrow any other place,” he said.

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