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Turkey hit with social media blackout as IS claims bombing

November 5, 2016

The "Islamic State" (IS) has reportedly claimed responsibility for a deadly car bomb in southeastern Turkey. A social media blackout prevented reporting of both the attack and the arrest of 12 Kurdish MPs.

Symbolbild Internetsperre in der Türkei
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Following the attack on Friday in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, internet users reported difficulties in accessing social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.

Monitoring site Turkey Blocks said restrictions had also been imposed on Skype and Instagram and smartphone messaging service WhatsApp.

The site, which monitors internet restrictions in Turkey, said this had been carried out by a "throttling" at Internet Service Provider (ISP) level including national providers like TTNet and Turkcell.

"Internet restrictions are increasingly being used in Turkey to suppress media coverage of political incidents, a form of censorship deployed at short notice to prevent civil unrest," it said.

Türkei Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image: picture alliance /dpa/S. Suna

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim did not directly confirm that blocks were in place but acknowledged that "from time to time for security reasons we can use such measures".

"These are temporary measures. Once the danger is past, everything returns to normal," he told reporters in Istanbul in televised comments.

The car bomb in Diyarbakir on Friday killed eight people and wounded more than 100. Hours later, the "Islamic State" (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, the groups'd Amaq news agency reported. Authorities initially blamed the bombing on Kurdish militants.

Kurdish MPs detained

The social media blackout on Friday also concided with the arrest of 12 Turkish parliamentarians from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) who were detained for not testifying in court on terrorism-related charges.

Türkei Selahattin Demirtas und Figen Yüksekdag
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna

Ankara government accuses the HDP of being the legal front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a more than three-decade long insurgency for greater Kurdish rights and autonomy.

Among the most recent arrests were HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, who were taken into custody from their homes. Turkish prosecutors accused the pair of spreading "terrorist propaganda," among other charges.

Western countries condemn arrests

Since the failed coup attempt in July, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used state of emergency powers to purge the military, bureaucracy and media of alleged followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for orchestrating the coup.

More than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended for suspected Gulenist ties. The purge has since morphed into a broader assault on all opposition, even those that were traditional rivals of the Gulenists, a former ally of Erdogan.

The most recent arrests on Friday drew swift condemnation from a host of western states. German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli told reporters that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier sees the arrests as a "drastic intensification of the situation" in Turkey.

In a statement posted on Twitter, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz said that the "detentions send a chilling signal about the state of political pluralism in Turkey."

"Turkish authorities are not just pushing Turkey further away from democracy, but they are also turning their backs on the values, principles, norms and rules underpinning EU-Turkey relations," Schulz said.

The US State Department also denounced the arrests. Spokesman John Kirby said: "When democracies pursue legal action against elected representatives, they must do so in a manner that reinforces the public's confidence in the rule of law."

ksb/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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