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8 arrested for fomenting enmity, spreading disinformation on social media

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An Ankara court has ordered the arrest of eight people including two journalists on charges of fomenting enmity and hatred and spreading disinformation on their X social media accounts, the Diken news website reported on Saturday.

The arrestees were among 27 people detained by Turkish police earlier this week in simultaneous raids across 14 provinces.

The detainees included 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.

Four detainees were released after interrogation at the prosecutor’s office. Among the 23 people referred to the court, 15 were released with a ban on leaving the country and subject to judicial supervision and eight were arrested.

“Our detained Editor-in-Chief Batuhan Çolak has been arrested,” Aykırı Haber said in a statement. Ajans Muhbir also announced that their colleague Süha Çardaklı was among those arrested.

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.”

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 May 2023 general election, 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 the 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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