Turkey detains 42 people over social media comments on Syrian operation

A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighter is seen around the area of Mount Bersaya, north of the Syrian town of Azaz near the border with Turkey, on Jan 22. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (REUTERS) - Turkish police arrested 42 people including a pro-Kurdish politician overnight for "spreading terrorist propaganda" on social media about Turkey's military operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria, state media reported on Tuesday (Jan 23).

The police raids, which state-run Anadolu news agency said were focused on the Western province of Izmir, brought the number of such detentions to around 70 since "Operation Olive Branch" was launched at the weekend.

The incursion into the Afrin region targets the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG, viewed by Ankara as a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Counter-terrorism squads launched simultaneous raids in various parts of Izmir and the nearby provinces of Denizli and Manisa, Anadolu said.

It said among those detained was the Izmir head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the second biggest opposition party in parliament and also accused by Ankara of being an extension of the PKK. It denies the accusation.

Among those arrested were also six suspects accused of spreading propaganda on the streets, which amounted to "harassing people", the agency said, adding that they were planning to hold a protest in a park.

Police carried out similar arrests related to social media posts across the country, detaining 14 suspects in the eastern provinces of Van, Igdir and Mus, and another five in the Mediterranean province of Mersin.

Ankara has enforced a crackdown since a failed coup in 2016 that critics say has unjustly targeted pro-Kurdish politicians. HDP lawmakers are in jail on terrorism charges, which they deny.

More than 50,000 people have been jailed and face trial since the attempted putsch and 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs. The government says the moves were necessary given the security threats Turkey faces.

On Monday, authorities in Ankara banned all rallies, protests, meetings and concerts across the capital, for as long as the Afrin operation continues.

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