26 social media users briefly detained over Erdoğan COVID posts

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Public prosecutors across Turkey briefly detained and released 26 people under investigation due to their social media posts about the health of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, with six of them subject to judicial probation, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Prosecutors across 12 provinces launched investigations into social media users who posted “insulting and provocative” messages about the health of Erdoğan after he announced on Saturday that he and his wife, Emine, had contracted COVID.

As part of the investigations, 26 people were briefly detained and released, six of whom were put on judicial probation, meaning they face a travel ban and have to regularly check in at a police station.

Anadolu also said a detention warrant was issued for former national swimmer Derya Büyükuncu, a six-time Olympic backstroke and butterfly swimmer who lives overseas, due to a tweet about Erdoğan in which he implied his wish for his death due to COVID.

Erdoğan getting COVID came as good news to some of his critics and people who are tired of his two-decade rule, raising hope that his time in office may end if he dies or becomes critically ill. Public support for Erdoğan has been slipping mainly due to his poor management of the economy, surveys show.

Erdoğan and his wife are experiencing light symptoms and are resting in their İstanbul home, according to a statement.

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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