(GPA) Turkey has reportedly turned off internet access for at least 6 million people as a response to protests following the arrests of two elected mayors from the Kurdish town of Diyarbakir.
“They have to be released immediately, our people won’t accept it and will use their democratic rights,” the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said in a statement. HPD also suspects that Ankara is using this as an opportunity to replace the democratically-elected Kurdish mayors with Turkish nationalists. “Turkey is conquering our municipalities and arresting our co-mayors, yet tells us to be quiet, wanting us to accept this oppression. But we will not accept nor will we be quiet about this,” Kurdish MP Feleknas Uca said on Tuesday.
Hundreds of organizers gathered in Diyarbakir. Istanbul, Izmir, Mardin, Bursa also saw organized protests. Ankara says the Kurdish mayors, Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, are under investigation for terrorism and have accused them of supporting the PKK. Officials deemed the demonstrations illegal and challenged protesters with tear gas and mass arrests.
The internet blackout mostly hit residents in Turkey’s southeast region near Diyarbakir. About 8% of the county’s IP networks are offline. Businesses have also been affected as point-of-sale terminals require an internet connection to operate. Some citizens traveled over 100 km to find a working internet connection. Standard text and voice communication was still available.
Turkey is still under a “state of emergency” following July’s attempted coup. Ankara has used this as an opportunity to label any opposition as “terrorism”, purge military and cabinet members, and censor citizens. Shutting down internet communication is one of Ankara’s favorite tactics for tackling opposition and silencing dissidents. Even prior to July’s coup, Turkish authorities began shutting down opposition websites such as Today’s Zaman and replacing them with state-friendly media. Authorities have since grown fond of shutting down internet connections in Kurdish areas anytime there’s a hint of civil unrest.