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Journalist detained over tweets on May election results, February earthquakes

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Journalist Mehmet Kızmaz has been detained over tweets regarding the presidential and parliamentary elections in May and two devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey on Feb. 6, the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency reported on Friday.

The detention of Kızmaz in the Hasankeyf district of Batman was ordered by the Batman Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on accusations of “inciting people to hatred and enmity.”

One of Kızmaz’s tweets was posted on May 17, three days after Turkey’s parliamentary elections and the first round of the presidential election.

Kızmaz said that in some areas where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s main rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – then-leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) – significantly outperformed in the Southeast, the police punished the public by launching tear gas into empty streets and even homes and by firing guns into the air for minutes at a time.

The journalist labeled these actions intimidation for the second round of the presidential election, adding that he couldn’t understand how the public could remain silent about this.

In another tweet Kızmaz talked about the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people and left millions homeless in more than a dozen cities in the country’s south and southeast in February in relation to the May elections.

“The fact that aid wasn’t received for days, that people remained trapped under debris for days, that survivors under the rubble were found dead days later, that people died of hypothermia — turning everything into a massacre-like disaster area. … In these regions where the voter turnout is also significantly high, this scenario … is very dire,” Kızmaz said.

He was referring to the fact that Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came out on top in the May elections in 10 of the 11 provinces affected by the earthquakes.

Erdoğan’s government came under strong pressure on social media for what his critics saw as a slow response to Turkey’s biggest earthquake in nearly a century.

The government was mainly accused of failing to mobilize enough people for relief efforts and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves and finding them frozen to death although they sustained no critical injuries in the collapse.

The government was also criticized for failing to provide safe shelter to the earthquake survivors and meeting their basic needs although there are ongoing relief efforts in Turkey and overseas for the earthquake survivors.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, eliminating media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially since President Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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