By Mustafa Yildirim and Yusuf Sahbaz
At least 94 people were arrested across Turkey on Tuesday for suspected promotion of the PYD/PKK terrorist group on their social media accounts, according to security officials.
On Sunday, investigations were launched by chief public prosecutor offices in Ankara, Van, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Mus and Istanbul against social media users who allegedly voiced support for the PYD/PKK terror group.
Later, the investigations were extended to Kutahya, Diyarbakir, Mugla, Izmir, Agri, Mersin, Igdir, Sanliurfa, Bingol, Ardahan and Canakkale.
Seventeen were arrested in raids across three provinces in an operation coordinated by police in the western province of Izmir, an official said on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media.
The provincial head of the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Cerkez Aydemir was also arrested. He is accused of spreading terrorist propaganda.
Arrests came after Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Izmir launched an investigation into social media activity promoting the terrorist organization against Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Syria’s Afrin region.
On Saturday, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and Daesh terrorist groups from northwestern Afrin region of Syria.
In a separate operation, police arrested six people suspected of spreading terrorist propaganda on public transport and sharing video footage of the group on social media.
Suspects were preparing to organize a protest in the Bornova district of Izmir, the source added. In eastern Igdir province and the Mediterranean province of Mersin, five people were arrested on similar charges.
Late Tuesday, police arrested another 58 suspects in nationwide operations.
Six were arrested in eastern Van province, while another seven arrests were made in southeastern Sanliurfa province.
In the western city of Bursa, gendarmerie arrested three suspects, known by initials A.K., M.K., and R.U.; another suspect was arrested in Samsun, a Black Sea province.
The 41 suspects were arrested in operations in Kutahya, Diyarbakir, Mugla, Mardin, Mus, Ankara, Agri and Bingol provinces.
Separately, three suspects were remanded in custody in Mugla and Agri provinces. They were charged with “making propaganda of a terrorist organization” and “inciting hatred and enmity among people”.
Also on late Tuesday, three suspects were arrested in the northwestern province of Canakkale. Among the arrested were the HDP’s provincial head, Nusret Kutluay, his deputy Seza Kilicbuyuk Beytas and Human Rights Association Canakkale’s Executive Committee member Hayrettin Piskin. All the suspects were accused of spreading terrorist propaganda and insulting the Republic of Turkey.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the Afrin operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
The Afrin operation was being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions, self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect to Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said, "utmost importance" was being given to not harm civilians.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.
*Huseyin Yildiz from Igdir, Mustafa Gungor from Mersin, Necat Hazar from Van, Recep Bilek from Samsun, Rauf Maltas from Sanliurfa, Ugur Ulu from Bursa, Kemal Karadag from Ankara and Burak Akay from Canakkale contributed to the story.