Ankara has become increasingly harsh towards those who criticize the military offensive in northeastern Syria with social media users being detained while politicians, journalists, and celebrities also face hate speech and threats.
The military operation was launched on October 9 targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, in northeastern Syria.
It began with a stated objective to establish a safe zone along Turkey’s border for the return of millions of refugees the country currently hosts.
Through the long-threatened operation, the Turkish government had aimed to clear the region off YPG militants, which it sees as a terrorist organization due to its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency in the country for decades.
On Thursday evening an agreement was reached between the United States and Turkey, as the latter agreed to stop the offensive for five days so that the Kurdish militia in the region could withdraw.
Since it started last Wednesday nearly 200 social media users across Turkey who criticized the incursion into northeastern Syria were detained.
At least 34 of them have been arrested on charges of making terrorist propaganda through their anti-war posts and messages.
A number of politicians including mostly officials from the pro-Kurdish HDP, journalists, and celebrities have also been detained for hate speech and threats for criticizing the offensive in Syria.
At least six HDP mayors have been arrested while dozens of the party’s officials, including MPs, mayors and district council members have been detained during protests against the offensive held across Turkey despite heavy police intervention.
The Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office also launched an investigation into HDP co-chairs Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan as well as lawmakers Gulistan Kilic Kocyigit, Leyla Guven and Berdan Ozturk on charges that include making terror propaganda.
The probe came a day after a joint written statement by the co-chairs expressing that they will take a stand against the operation, which they defined as an “invasion attempt in Syria” and an “illegal war.”
However, the same prosecutor’s office gave a decision of non-prosecution for Ahmet Atilla Senturk, a professor from Istanbul Arel University.
Charges against Senturk were filed by a number of HDP members that include MPs Garo Paylan and Filiz Kerestecioglu over his alleged threat against them.
“This is not the way to do it. An HDP lawmaker must be done away with in response to each of our soldiers killed [in the operation],” Senturk said on October 10 in a social media post.
The office also started a probe against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrikulu due to his remarks against the military offensive.
“The [Turkish] government needs to know that this is an unfair war against the Kurds,” he said during a televised interview on Saturday.
Turkish police also detained a municipal council member from the Islamist opposition Felicity Party (SP), who is identified by the initials M.D, over his anti-war statements about the offensive.
“War never brings any benefit, it only brings blood, tears, and destruction,” Turkish media quoted M.D as saying during a council meeting.
Mustafa Akinci, the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), said a number of people threatened to kill him over his comments denouncing the military operation.
Demiroren News Agency (DHA) reported on Friday that the death threats came after a backlash by several AKP officials over his criticism of the offensive called Operation Peace Spring.
“Now, even if we say Operation Peace Spring, what is being spilled is not water, it is blood,” Akinci said in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Hakan Demir, an online editor for the leftist Turkish daily BirGun, was also briefly detained after a police raid in his house early on October 10 for “inciting the people to hatred and enmity” through a news piece on the daily.
Fatih Gokhan Diler, the Managing Editor of the Diken news portal, was also briefly detained on the same day following a police raid in Diken’s office in Istanbul’s Sisli district.
Journalist Burcu Ozkaya Gunaydin was also detained after police raided her house in Hatay due to her social media posts opposing the incursion and was released later on the same day, the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency (MA) reported on Saturday.
Well-known Turkish singers and actors were also pointed as targets by the pro-government press outlets for not openly expressing their support for Ankara’s military operation.
A day after the offensive was launched, Takvim daily reported that Turkey’s prominent singers Tarkan and Gokhan Ozoguz, as well as Cem Yilmaz, a leading stand-up comedian, and actor, did not post any messages to show that they back the Turkish government in the conflict.
The Human Rights Association (IHD) has released a written statement warning that those in Turkey who defend peace and human rights as opposed to the ruling AKP government’s war policy are under “evident and close threat.”
The IHD is an Ankara-based non-governmental organization for advancing human rights in Turkey.
Through the operation Turkey has managed to make peace discussions, oppression and intimidation policy main issues of the country once again, IHD said in the statement published on Wednesday.
“Human rights advocates are criticized and pointed as targets for protesting against the violation of human rights [during Turkey’s offensive in Syria],” the association outlined.
It added that it’s “quite dangerous” for figures like CHP’s Tanrikulu and KKTC’s Akinci, who call attention to the “bitter results of war” and defend peace instead, to be pointed as targets by senior government officials because it could have “serious consequences.”
“What’s even more disturbing is the pro-government journalists’ constant efforts to insult, threaten and point as target everyone who supports peace against the [AKP] government’s act of war,” the IHD also underlined.
It said that “making war propaganda” is forbidden according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966.
“We’d like to indicate that it is the responsibility of Turkey’s political power, the UN, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to protect the human rights advocates [in the counrty] who oppose war and defend peace,” the association further emphasized.
Noting that hate speech is frequently used by mainstream and pro-government media outlets in Turkey, the IHD concluded the statement by calling upon international organizations to do their duty and give a “strong warning” to the country’s political power.