Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in no mood to hear criticism of his military incursion against Syrian Kurds in the Afrin region from the public, media, or opposition lawmakers.
Kurdistan24 notes that he promised to “pulverize” dissidents, and his government is doing exactly that with a wave of investigations and arrests.
The Turkish government has classified criticism of the Afrin operation as a criminal offense under the rubric of “propaganda in support of a terror group, inciting public hostility, insulting the President, and sharing content that contravenes realities.”
That is a highly flexible standard for pulverizing dissent. Kurdistan24 counts at least 37 arrests and 57 investigations so far, many of them directed at citizens in Kurdish-heavy provinces or representatives from the pro-Kurdish HDP Party, which has already been receiving rough treatment since Erdogan survived a 2016 coup attempt and found his already meager appetite for political opposition diminished.
Some of the targeted individuals are under investigation merely for sending tweets critical of the Syrian incursion and calling for popular demonstrations against it. Erdogan vowed that “anyone making the mistake of getting out on to public squares will pay the heaviest price.”
German media reported on Tuesday that journalists from the Turkish paper Taz Gazete have been arrested by counter-terrorism police, and their apartments “stormed and searched,” for the crimes of “posting information on social media from local sources in Afrin that contained alternative rhetoric to that of the government” and “hosting online discussions featuring activists and lawmakers that are against the war.”
“Everyone is worried they might be next,” a Taz Gazete reporter said. Another journalist said he personally knew of five reporters detained for writing tweets critical of the Afrin operation. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim reportedly held a meeting with reporters on Sunday to tell them exactly how the war must be covered.
Events in Turkey are a hot topic for German media because the German government is reportedly considering an arms sale to Turkey in exchange for the release of an imprisoned journalist who holds dual citizenship. Critics of this arrangement say it not only represents a “new low in Turkey’s press repression,” as Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists put it, but also looks suspiciously like Turkey holding a German hostage for ransom. Several of the journalists arrested this week during Erdogan’s crackdown on Afrin criticism work for a news organization based in Germany.
Human Rights Watch complained about the detention of Kurdish journalist and human rights activist Nurcan Baysal on Sunday, ostensibly because her tweets constituted terrorist propaganda and called for “provocative actions.” Her tweets over the weekend mostly criticized Erdogan as a warmonger, chided him for sarcastically naming the Afrin assault “Operation Olive Branch,” and called for peaceful resolution of Kurdish issues in Turkey; she said nothing about supporting terrorism or calling for violence. Baysal was released on bail Wednesday, but is barred from leaving Turkey.
Voice of America News posits that Erdogan’s harsh crackdown on Afrin criticism is partly driven by memories of the siege of Kobani in 2014. Turkish Kurds held large demonstrations at the time to protest Turkey’s alleged complicity with the Islamic State as it assaulted the Syrian Kurdish city.