Turkish gov’t investigates 39,000 social media users, detains over 3,000 of them in 2017

Turkish government has investigated more than 39,000 social media users and detained more than 3,000 social media users and Turkish courts have arrested over 1,000 of them, according to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency on Tuesday.

The report stated that Turkish government has established 12 units at the General Security Directorate and assigned 500 experts on social media and informatics to these units to struggle against alleged cyber crimes. However, the details of the report has showed that the formed police units against cyber crimes have mostly followed, investigated and detained the social media users who are critical of the suppressive government policies.

According to the report, these police units have determined 39,000 social media users who have allegedly been committing cyber crimes, basically “insulting” state officials and allegedly making propaganda on the behalf of the Gülen movement, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and terror organisations.

Police have conducted technical investigation about 16,000 of these social media accounts. Then, they have launched legal investigations for 9,600 of these social media users. As a result of these legal investigations police units detained over 3,000 social media users and transfered them to the courts. According to report of Anadolu news agency, 1,000 of these detainees were arrested by Turkish courts.

Moreover, scores of people in Turkey have been detained or arrested or are under investigation on allegations of insulting Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over their social media posts. As of the end of 2016, at least 10,000 people were under investigation on suspicion of terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.

A total of 1,080 people were convicted of insulting Erdoğan in 2016, according to data from Turkey’s Justice Ministry. Data also showed that 4,936 cases were launched against people on charges of insult in 2016.

The US-based think tank Freedom House, which has listed Turkey in his report among the countries in which Internet freedoms are restricted most, stated that tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have been arbitrarily detained for their alleged use of the encrypted communications app ByLock.

According to the Freedom House, access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube was repeatedly disrupted in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, while Wikipedia was permanently blocked over articles on Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The report has also stated that Turkey accounted for 65 percent of all content that was locally restricted by Twitter during the coverage period, as the government cracked down on independent reporting. The hacktivist group RedHack leaked over 57,000 emails from Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, revealing the extent of a government campaign to manipulate social media and smear prominent opposition figures.

Underlining the fact that Turkish government has repeatedly suspended access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp on national security grounds, while Wikipedia has been permanently blocked due to articles related to Turkey’s role in the Syrian civil war, the report said that “Popular services offering virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Tor anonymity network have been blocked to prevent users from accessing censored content.”

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