Detention warrant issued for national swimmer over Erdoğan COVID tweet

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Turkish prosecutors have issued a detention warrant for former national swimmer Derya Büyükuncu due to a tweet he posted about the health of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, Turkish media outlets reported.

Erdoğan announced on Saturday that had tested positive for COVID but was not experiencing severe symptoms.

“After experiencing light symptoms, my wife and I tested positive for COVID-19. We have a mild infection, thankfully, which we learned is the omicron variant,” the 67-year-old president said in a tweet.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office announced on Monday that a detention warrant had been issued for Büyükuncu, a six-time Olympic backstroke and butterfly swimmer.

Turkish prosecutors have launched investigations into 36 social media users who shared “insulting” messages on social media about the president’s health and issued detention warrants for eight of them, four of whom were taken into custody on Sunday. While three were released, the fourth, a woman identified as Pınar Ö., was put under house arrest.

Büyükuncu was among the eight people facing detention due to the tweet he posted about Erdoğan getting infected with the coronavirus, but he could not be detained as he was abroad.

“He contracted the coronavirus and wants us to pray for him. We are praying, he should have no worries. I have already begun to make halva in 20 pots. When the time comes, I will distribute them to the entire neighborhood,” Büyükuncu said in his tweet without mentioning Erdoğan’s name.

Halva is a traditional Turkish desert that is generally served to guests and distributed to neighbors when someone has died.

Halva also became a hashtag among Twitter users in Turkey after Erdoğan announced the news about getting infected with the coronavirus.

In the meantime, the Turkish Swimming Federation announced in a statement on Sunday that the federation has decided to permanently ban Büyükuncu from participating in official sports events due to his “insulting” tweet about the president.

Insulting the president is subject to criminal charges under the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), and thousands of people in the country are under investigation, with most of them facing the threat of imprisonment over alleged insults of Erdoğan. 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.

The insult cases generally stem from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of Erdoğan or his government as an insult.

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