A popular Twitter user has been arrested for allegedly exposing a fake “sex tape” that contributed to the withdrawal of presidential candidate Muharrem İnce, leader of the Homeland Party (MP), from the May 14 election, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported over the weekend.
İnce, who found himself embroiled in controversy as the allegedly fake sex tape circulated ahead of the election, withdrew from the race on May 11, citing an onslaught of “insults” and “false accusations.”
Following İnce’s claims of a defamation campaign against him, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation. Viewing İnce as a “public official,” the investigation centers on alleged crimes committed against him, including “blackmail,” “threat,” “document forgery,” “unlawful acquisition and dissemination of personal data” and “invasion of privacy.”
Oktay Yaşar, the operator of the Ankara Kuşu Twitter account, an influential handle covering Turkish politics and posting speculation citing insider information, was among those detained as part of the investigation.
According to a report by Anadolu on Sunday, Yaşar was arrested by the Ankara 4th Criminal Court of Peace for involvement in the scandal that led to İnce’s withdrawal from the race. He is accused of “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data” and “disclosing images and sound bites related to private life,” among other charges.
The T24 news website on Monday quoted Yaşar as saying in his testimony that he worked as a reporter at the Hürriyet newspaper between 2010 and 2016 and that his tweets about İnce only included his questions as a reporter to the MP leader regarding the allegations against him.
“I categorically deny the allegations of engaging in blackmail, disclosing images and sound bites related to private life and knowingly using fake private documents. Furthermore, there is no concrete evidence … to support these accusations. I’m here solely because of the tweets I posted,” Yaşar added, according to T24.
Investigative journalist Cevheri Güven contends that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration is behind the fabrication of the scandal that triggered İnce’s withdrawal. He claims that the Turkish police’s cyber unit and the Presidential Communications Directorate manufactured the evidence. Güven further asserts that the investigation was prepared in advance and that İnce’s withdrawal from the presidential race was part of a premeditated plan.
A detention warrant was also issued for Güven, who lives in exile in Germany and is being sought by the government, as part of the investigation.
İnce had been accused of dividing the opposition vote and making a secret deal with Erdoğan to make it possible for him to occupy the top state post for another five years.