Surfing the social media in Turkey is like walking in a minefield, simply because such social media surfers might well end up in jail.
Kelseem Cetin Kaya, 27, did not know that writing on her Facebook page between 2014 and 2015 could lead to imprisonment, which is what happened when she visited Turkey simply for tourism.
The arrest of Kaya at the Edirne border crossing, came against the backdrop of her support for the Kurdish cause on Facebook, as this charge is enough to make her spend years in Turkish prisons, where the authorities apply a repressive policy against social media, to counter anything that may contradict their policies.
Kaya, who holds dual Turkish and Belgian citizenship, spent forty days in Turkish prisons, from September 6, 2019, in addition to being banned from travelling outside Turkish territory. This led the European Student Union (ESU) to issue a statement demanding that the Turkish authorities allow Kaya to travel to Belgium, and to continue her studies in law.
The EU has also appealed to the Belgian authorities to work towards bringing her home in order to be able to continue her studies. The EU's statement considered "the ceiling of freedoms in Turkey is approaching the bottom, as the Turkish authorities have investigated 1,100 Turkish researchers, for signing a petition against the Turkish authorities, and arrested 15,000 employees from the Ministry of Education."
The statement concluded by saying, "we believe that the promotion of open dialogue and critical thinking within the academic community is essential for the development of more humane, tolerant, innovative and creative citizens, capable of contributing to a functioning democracy, and society that values the right to freedom of expression.”
Crackdown on Turkish Citizens
Kaya is not the only one to have faced imprisonment for posting her views on social media websites. During its recent campaign to the east of the Euphrates, which was dubbed in Turkey "the Spring of Peace," the Turkish authorities arrested many Turkish citizens throughout Turkey, for posting views which conflicted with the Turkish army's invasion of northern Euphrates areas in Syria, and which displaced their residents and destroyed their properties.
"In developed countries, social networking websites are an outlet for citizens to share their concerns, opinions, pain and communicate them to the concerned authorities. But in Turkey, what happens is exactly the opposite," Journalist Ikram Balkan told 7DNews. He added, in Turkey, whoever writes against the policy of the Justice and Development government gets arrested. The situation is going from bad to worse, things were started by blocking Turkey-related websites, and now the government is monitoring and spying on every single social media page."
Balkan said, according to his information, "more than 50 Turkish citizens were arrested, and interrogated for expressing opposition to the Turkish campaign on the eastern Euphrates in Syria, where four citizens were arrested in Gebze, six in Canakay, eight in Denizli, 43 in Antakya, two in Konya and one person in Urfa." He added that the number of arrests carried out by the Turkish authorities "far exceeds these figures, and the measure was carried out on various pretexts, ranging from support of terrorist movements to organizing propaganda for organisations which the Turkish government see as terrorist."
Against the backdrop of Bloomberg News reporting that the Turkish authorities have taken legal action against 78 people, the Directorate General of Turkish Security said on its website, that the leaflets "incite people to hatred and malice," accusing the authors of involvement in propaganda for a terrorist organisation, charges that may lead to years in prison.
The Turkish authorities' detentions are not limited to their citizens alone, as the Syrian refugees experience the same tragedy. Their phones and social media websites are searched and monitored, and whoever has friends who the Turkish government considers terrorists would be put in jail, as happened with Mohamed Ghazim, who moved from Ayn Al-Arab Kobani, to a Turkish territory late in 2014.
According to Mohamed's wife, Zolaikha Abdullah, a Turkish police patrol stopped Mohamed while in the streets of the Turkish city of Borsa in 2015, and found a photo of fighters of the Syrian People's Protection Units (PPU) on his Facebook account, an act which Turkish police considers a crime.
Mohammed's wife adds that her husband "was arrested and remained until June 2017 without trial. Although Mohammed had nothing to do with the PPU, the Turkish judiciary refused to release or deport him to Syria, accusing him of supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), adding that they "hired lawyers and paid more than 10,000 Turkish liras, but could not get him out of prison, and he was eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
"No users of social media websites may be arrested unless proven guilty of crimes of incitement as proven by their posts and publications," Abdul Rahman Allaf, a Syrian lawyer working in Turkish courts, told 7Dnews.
Allaf added that according to Turkish and international laws, it is not possible to search the phones or websites of any person, whether a Turkish citizen or a refugee, which is contrary to the Turkish police's current arrests of anyone who posts on social media, with an opinion conflicting with that of the Turkish authorities.
Asked about the many Syrians refugees in Turkey who are deleting their social media accounts, to avoid being in trouble with the Turkish authorities, lawyer Abdul Rahman said that the Turkish police "are not entitled to stop and search anyone's social media account, unless it poses a threat to Turkish national security, or contains an incitement against certain people. In this case, the police should ask permission from the account owner, and they must be released immediately if none of this is found on the mobile. Unfortunately, this does not happen with the Syrian refugees who are subjected to humiliation, deportation and even imprisonment."
Translated by: Hussam Abulhadid