Turkey among several countries censoring their coronavirus critics

An increasing number of governments - including Turkey - are using emergency measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic to suppress criticism and undesirable information, said analysts writing in the magazine Foreign Policy.

Many freedoms that citizens take for granted have been suspended in order to save lives during the pandemic, and misinformation poses a challenge to containment of the virus. But the proliferation of laws and censorship against supposed fake news, or disinformation, in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Singapore has led to troubling prosecutions and harassment of lawyers, anti-harassment activists, opposition politicians, and watchdog groups, said FP on Wednesday.

“Across the globe, illiberal leaders - facing questions about their preparedness to deal with a pandemic that has killed nearly 45,000 people, at a time when too few states appear to be equipped for the challenge - see fake news bans as convenient tools to suppress criticism and accurate information just as readily as misinformation,” said FP.

The FP said that, as Turkey has become infamous for its suppression of criticism under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it is unsurprising that the authorities had identified at least 93 suspects allegedly responsible for “unfounded and provocative” social media comments about the coronavirus, and had arrested 19 of them. 

The Turkish Interior Ministry has been arresting social media users whose posts were “targeting officials and spreading panic and fear by suggesting that the virus had spread widely in Turkey and that officials had taken insufficient measures,” said FP, citing a Reuters report.

But Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 63 new deaths of people who contracted the coronavirus, marking the second consecutive deadliest day in the battle against COVID-19.
With the new numbers, the total number of coronavirus deaths in Turkey have reached 277, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Another 2,148 people have tested positive for the deadly virus, raising the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 15,679, he added.

“While this is obviously politically inconvenient for the Turkish government, it might not be false, then, to suggest that Turkey, like the United States, Italy, and Spain, is insufficiently prepared for the threat of the coronavirus,” said the FP.

The FP also detailed a range of similar prosecutions and harassment under the guise of tacking disinformation in Cambodia, Thailand, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, the Philippines, Honduras, Singapore, South Africa, India, and Hungary. Many social media platforms have also taken down well-researched coronavirus content. 

The FP said that censorship in China by threatening or silencing doctors, whistleblowers, journalists, and social media users during the outbreak has demonstrated the harm in such an approach—as its citizens would have been more prepared and taken better precautions to limit the spread of the virus. 

“At a time when information and transparency are necessary to combat this pandemic, it is vital that government-led censorship be identified, exposed, and rejected,” said FP.