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By Ece Temelkuran / 3 June, 2013
Ece Temelkuran asks why the Turkish government is afraid of the internet
Against a backdrop of unrest that started in an Istanbul park last week and has spread throughout the country, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday described social media as “the worst menace to society.”
In the last 10 years whenever Erdogan implied his dislike, dissatisfaction or even displeasure towards any single person or any institution, suppression has followed shortly after. That is why many protest supporters in Turkey are now expecting Twitter and Facebook to be cut off. And at the moment it is a matter of life or death for citizens of Turkey. Here is why.
As the protests, which started in reaction to plans to build a shopping centre in a park, quickly escalated and spread in reaction to police heavy-handedness, Turkish Twitter users with high number of followers have been receiving tweets crying for help from several cities all over the country. Tweets like:
“We are stuck in …. Police attacks fiercely. Please RT!”
“We are choking. The tear gas incredible. Ambulance! Please help us!”
“Don’t go to …. There is a police trap! Spread the news” “Guys in Beşiktaş! The Hotel is giving shelter. Please RT!”
“My friend is dying. We are at …! Please help us!”
And the ones who want to help reply:
“We have anti-acid solution. Five litres. Where shall we come? RT Please!”
“We are lawyers offering legal help. Tell us where you are!”
“We have 100 gas masks. Tell us where we should leave them? RT”
Since the media has been silent on the events of the past few days, people turned to Twitter for news on the protests and tips on staying safe. These are the people Erdoğan now calls troublemakers.
A broad range of Turkish society has taken part in the protests. It is not only secularists who were concerned with rising conservatism, nor the Leftists that were constantly targeted by rising authoritarianism who are protesting: Religious conservatives have also joined the protests in large numbers.
Even the most depoliticized people have taken to the streets. Despite the massive number of arrests and threats personally from the PM, the anger at the moment is out of control in several cities. It is not only police tactics in dealing with the protests that have caused public outrage, it is the “vocabulary” of the prime minister.
Prime Minister Erdoğan yesterday described the thousands of protestors as “bunch of looters” and Twitter users as “provocateurs”.
Many Turkish tweeters have added “the looter” to their name on Twitter, embracing the description of the PM. The “troublemakers” have their own outlet now. They don’t need the mainstream media as much as they needed them before. For Turkey’s authorities, this is big trouble, for sure.
Related: Turkey losing its way on free speech
The protests erupting across Turkey have shown a wider audience – domestic and international – the increasingly problematic nature of Turkish democracy, and its growing authoritarian tendencies. Index on Censorship CEO Kirsty Hughes writes