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How you whistle, text and even bank can land you in jail in Turkey

A man takes part in a protest organised by Amnesty International
A man takes part in a protest organised by Amnesty International Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Euronews
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Nine forms of expression that have landed Turks in trouble with the law.


Since a failed 2016 coup, freedom of expression in Turkey has been extremely curtailed with wide-ranging terrorist laws being used to detain thousands of citizens including soldiers, teachers, journalists and civil servants. Speaking out can take different forms, but the authorities seemed determined to crack down on all of them. Below are a few examples:

1) On social media

In the last three weeks almost 500 people have been arrested for opposing Turkey's military operation in northern Syria on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook

2) In a press release

Members of the Turkey Medical Association put out a statement saying peace should be pursued ahead of war. Days later eleven members of the group’s governing council were arrested

3) In private messages

A female politician on a bus in Istanbul was sent to prison after a fellow passenger caught a glimpse of her messages on the WhatsApp mobile phone messaging application and reported her to the police. Hatice Deniz Aktaş also allegedly had a photo of Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan on her phone. The PKK is recognised in Turkey and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

4) On your clothing

Suspects on trial over last year’s coup attempt in Turkey will be forced to wear brown overalls at their court appearances after one defendant turned up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “hero”. The new regulation on clothing came into effect last month.

5) As an interviewer

Journalist Deniz Yücel spent one year in prison for having done several phone interviews with members of the PKK. Yücel was accused of producing terrorist propaganda

6) By depositing money at a bank

Thousands of Turks are facing jail terms for depositing money into Bank Asya. The bank, opened in the presence of current president Recep Tayipp Erdogan two decades ago, is said to be linked to the Gulen movement.

7) By downloading an app

Turkey says the bylock app was specially created for supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen to create a network for organising his sympathisers across the country. Legal before the 2016 attempted coup, now there are daily arrests for having downloaded the software.

Turkey says Gulen, who runs a religious movement through a global network of schools and foundations from the US, was behind the coup attempt. He has repeatedly denied this. Turkey has branded his movement as terror organization.

8) By writing an opinion article

Many serious charges against journalists are linked to critical editorials. Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilıcak, three prominent journalists were sentenced to life in prison last week. There are between 200 and 300 journalists currently in prison.

9) By whistling

A group of students at Dicle University in Diyarbakır province is facing possible sentences of up to 28 years on terrorism charges. One of the students, identified in court documents as Suat Mustafa Ş., has been accused of “creating terrorist propaganda” for whistling a Kurdish song during a rally.

Growing terror

Challenged about his crackdown on a visit to France last month, president Erdogan noted that bomb attacks are just the final stage of the making of a terrorist.

“Terror doesn’t form by itself. Terror and terrorists have gardeners,” Erdogan said, standing next to French President Emmanuel Macron who had voiced concern about the fate of students, teachers and journalists in Turkey’s crackdown.

“These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They water ... from their columns on newspapers,” Erdogan said. “And one day, you find, these people show up as a terrorist in front of you.”

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