At least 25 Twitter users have been detained by Turkish police on charges of spreading propaganda and inciting demonstrations, as the country continues to protest violently against the government for a sixth day.
The activists, who, according to Turkish police were spreading “misleading and libelous information” and “misguiding the youth” were arrested from the city of Izmir early on Wednesday morning for posting messages, videos or pictures of protest, though it remains unclear which comment on Twitter prompted the detentions. The police were able to track down the online activists through their IP addresses and had found most of them.
Although these arrests don’t come as much of a surprise – just on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called the social media outlet the “worst menace to society,” adding that “the best example of lies can be found there.” He has also described the protesters as, "naïve … participating (in demonstrations) by following information on social media.” However, it is unlikely that the arrest of a couple dozen Twitter users will deter the thousands who are relying on Twitter to voice their opposition to Erdogan and the Turkish authorities from doing just that.
The demonstrations in Turkey began over a week ago, when Turkish authorities had planned to replace an Istanbul park with a new development, but almost instantly had transformed into a broader protest again Erdogan’s heavy-handed rule. The demonstrations exploded when protesters complained about the police’s unnecessarily harsh tactics and brutality. The protests had further gained momentum when pictures and videos, such as the one of the now-famous Girl in Red started making their rounds on the internet via social media.
Authorities have used water cannons and tear gas n protesters, amongst other means of violence, leaving more than 3,000 people injured. In one case, police had lured one group of protesters out from their shelter by reassuring them that they would not be harmed, and then shot a gas canister at them. In another case, a 22 year-old man, Abdullah Can Comert, was struck in the head by bullets fired from an armored police vehicle, leaving him dead.
Social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, have become vital for modern-day activists around the world to share information and organize protests. They have also become especially important for the Turkish demonstrations, as the country’s own media outlets have been slow in giving coverage of the protests, forcing many Turks to turn to social media in order to both provide and get updates on the demonstrations.
Although police are continuing their search for more activists accused of organizing demonstrations and summoning people to protests, it is unlikely that the Turks will abandon their social media outlets out of fear.