Erdoğan’s army of online trolls forcing dissidents to leave Turkey

Dissidents are being forced to leave Turkey due to threats by online trolls linked to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Telegraph said on Friday.

Extreme death and rape threats made in 2018 and 2019 against Tuna Bekleviç, a human rights activist, and his family were a key factor in him being forced to leave Turkey and moving to Washington D.C., where he continues to campaign against the government, he told the Telegraph.

“It has become impossible to continue this resistance only from inside the borders of Turkey, because the country is not free, it is captive,” Bekleviç said.

Bekleviç felt there was something strange about some of the abusive messages, which had been sent within an hour of him posting criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

On June 12, Twitter published an investigation which said it had suspended more than 7,300 pro-Erdoğan accounts for breaking its rules - including those which had sent death threats to Bekleviç.

Twitter’s investigation found that the accounts that sent the messages all appeared to have been coordinated by the youth wing of the AKP, though this has been strongly denied by party officials.

“After Twitter’s decision, I looked again and almost all of them were closed. You can easily guess that these threats are organised,” Bekleviç told the Telegraph.

Shortly after Twitter's investigation was published, Erdoğan pledged to introduce a bill to expand his influence even further over social media, which for many is the last remaining platform for activism.

“There is no doubt at all that the Turkish president's plan to rein in social media is all about greatly increasing the ability to limit the circulation of news and commentary critical of the government,” the Telegraph cited Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch, as saying. “It is in other words a censorship project.”

On some occasions, online abuse has escalated into physical violence.

Barbaros Şansal, an LGBT activist and one of Turkey’s most famous fashion designers, said he has been beaten up by pro-Erdoğan supporters, including one 2012 attack which left him with a broken nose.

“The attacker was never found, and it is even worse now... I get death threats and rapes, homophobic messages, everything,” he told the Telegraph.

"They call me a traitor, they call me a f----t, they call me a kaffir [infidel], they even published my private phone number and address on social media,” he said.