Prosecutors in Turkey have launched an investigation into a social media hastag critical of the government’s allegedly bungled response to the country’s devastating wildfires, accusing it of spreading “anxiety and fear”.
The hashtag HelpTurkey exploded when rightwing president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was pictured on a tour of the damaged region under heavy police escort, tossing bags of tea to locals out of a moving bus in the middle of the night while a megaphone announced his presence.
“Help us!!!!!” Turkish comedian Enis Arikan tweeted hours after Erdoğan’s visit in a typical #HelpTurkey post. “We need planes urgently. We only have one world.”
But in a deeply divided country where even minor events spark culture wars between Erdoğan’s supporters and opponents, the hashtag turned into a scandal, leading to a prosecutors’ investigation.
The powerful Turkish leader, unexpectedly facing one of the most serious challenges of his 18-year rule, sounded scandalised by the idea that his country needed help to cope with the worst fires in living memory, which have left eight people dead along the south coast.
His government has faced accusations of mismanagement and unpreparedness after admitting the country has no serviceable firefighting planes.
Acting on Erdoğan’s anger, the prosecutors’ office said it would investigate whether the posts were designed “to create anxiety, fear and panic in the public, and to humiliate the Turkish government”.
Around the same time, the media regulator threatened to fine TV channels that continued airing live footage of the fires or running stories “that provoke fear and worries in the public”.
The government is spinning that #HelpTurkey is being fanned by “sock puppets” – fake accounts designed to manipulate public opinion.
Photo: Wildfire burning close to the Kemerkoy Thermal Power Plant at the Milas district of Mugla, Turkey. EPA/EFE
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