Turkish government used Syria incursion to silence dissent - rights group

The Turkish government took the opportunity of a military incursion into northern Syria launched earlier this month to further intensify the crackdown against dissenting voices, rights group Amnesty International said on Friday. 

On 10 October, a day after the offensive began, Turkey’s media watchdog RTÜK  warned media outlets that there would be zero tolerance of “any broadcasting that may negatively impact the morale and motivation of […] soldiers or may mislead citizens through incomplete, falsified or partial information that serves the aims of terror”.

In the first week of the nine-day offensive, 839 social media accounts were under investigation for “sharing criminal content” with 186 people reportedly taken into police custody and 24 remanded in pre-trial detention, Amnesty International said citing official figures. 

As a result of the wave of repression that accompanied Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, hundreds of people have been facing “absurd criminal charges” and they might face lengthy prison sentences if found guilty, the right group said. 

“As the tanks rolled across the Syrian border, the government took the opportunity to launch a domestic campaign to eradicate dissenting opinions from media, social media and the streets. Critical discussion on issues of Kurdish rights and politics has become even further off limits,” said Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Marie Struthers.

Turkey’s military offensive, which ended after Ankara and Moscow agreed on establishing a safe zone in northern Syria last week, targeted Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

As a result, journalists, social media users and protesters, who were detained for criticising the military operation, are under investigation under anti-terrorism laws.