Turkey’s Security Directorate General announced on Wednesday that legal action has been taken against 30 people who commented about the health of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan under a hashtag on Twitter that indicated Erdoğan had died, Turkish media outlets reported.
There is growing speculation in Turkey about the health of Erdoğan, 67, who in the past months has been seen in public or in videos walking with difficulty.
The claims reached new heights on Wednesday after a video of the president was circulated on Monday evening, showing Erdoğan walking with difficulty after accepting congratulations for Republic Day at his presidential palace on Oct. 29. Some social media users claimed that Erdoğan had died under the hashtag “ölmüş” (died), without an open reference to Erdoğan, which became a top trending topic on Turkish Twitter.
Under the hashtag, some uploaded videos to express their joy over the possible death of Erdoğan, while others said it would be a pity for him to die before appearing in court and be held to account for his unlawful actions.
The directorate announced that 30 people who used or retweeted the hashtag have been identified and that legal action has been taken against them on charges of insulting, humiliating and damaging the prestige of the president.
Rumors about Erdoğan’s health have been circulating for years, with one of his doctors going on record in 2011 to deny that the Turkish leader had cancer.
In 2011, Erdoğan, then prime minister, underwent laparoscopic gastrointestinal surgery, and has been walking more carefully ever since.
Erdoğan was last seen in public on Sunday, when he met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome.
He then cancelled his planned attendance at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, citing a dispute over security protocols.
The latest speculation appears to have been prompted by Erdoğan’s failure to attend a ceremony of his ruling party, which on Wednesday celebrated the 19th anniversary of its rise to power.
Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media.