ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish authorities detained 29 people overnight for “inciting riots” using social networking sites such as Twitter, local media reported on Wednesday.
The detentions came in the coastal city of Izmir, where police and protesters have clashed repeatedly since anti-government protests swept this nation six days ago. Those arrested were accused of “conducting propaganda” through social media.
Tens of thousands of protesters — largely secular, middle-class youths — have taken to the streets against long-time Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom they accuse of authoritarianism and political exclusion. Activists have relied heavily on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to rally dissidents and disseminate information.
“Twitter and Facebook are effective. We can share photographs or stories with hundreds of people at once,” said protester Timur Karadeniz. “The mainstream media has been horrible. We were fighting in the streets and CNN Turk was broadcasting a documentary about Penguins — we call this the ‘Penguin Revolution’ now.”
Erdogan, an Islamist facing the most volatile public backlash since he rose to power more than a decade ago, has characterized the protesters as extremists “running wild” and poured scorn on social media as a “troublemaker in societies.”
“There is a trouble called Twitter,” Erdogan said during a television interview on Sunday. “Unmitigated lies are there [on Twitter].”
Using networking and micro-blogging sites as organizational tools shot to prominence during the uprisings that spread across the Middle East in 2011, notably in Egypt and Tunisia, as authorities struggled to restrain streams of dissenting information.
In Izmir, where the ruling Justice and Development Party’s headquarters were set ablaze Sunday, police were searching for an additional 13 people in relation to the incitement charges, according to an opposition figure quoted in the daily Hurriyet newspaper.
Republican People’s Party provincial secretary Sevda Erkan Kilic said all detainees were party members and had done nothing to “provoke the citizens.”
“These statements were things we all shared,” Hurriyet quoted Kilic as saying.
Scores of people have been detained during the protests, which are estimated to have caused millions of dollars in damage across the country.
Johnson is a special correspondent. Staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo contributed to this report.