Don't Badmouth the Lira: Turkey Investigates Social Media Users Over Comments on Plummeting Currency

Prosecutor's office says 346 accounts have posted comments about the weakening lira 'in a provocative way'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greeting his supporters in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, August 12, 2018.
AFP

Istanbul prosecutor's office launched an investigation into individuals suspected of involvement in actions that threaten Turkey's economic security, private broadcaster CNN Turk said on Monday. 

Turkey was targeted by an economic attack, the prosecutor's office said, and pledged to take legal action against all written and visual news as well as social media accounts which it deemed to serve toward the purpose of this attack. 

The office said 346 social media accounts that posted comments about the weakening of the lira "in a provocative way" have been identified since August 7 and legal action has been launched. 

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Turkey's lira pulled back from an overnight record low of 7.24 to the dollar after the central bank pledged to provide liquidity and cut lira and foreign currency reserve requirements for Turkish banks. 

The renewed lira collapse on Sunday night hit Asian shares, weakened the South African rand and drove demand in global markets for safe currencies including the U.S. dollar, Swiss franc and yen. 

On Monday, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin defended Turkey's economy, saying it is strong and nobody should pay attention to speculative news and moves.

Making the comments on Twitter, Kalin also said the treasury ministry, the central bank, the banking watchdog, the capital markets board and other institutions were taking the steps necessary for financial stability. 

The currency has lost more than 40 percent against the dollar this year, largely over worries about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's influence over the economy, his repeated calls for lower interest rates, and worsening ties with the United States. 

The two governments have been at odds over a wide range of topics - from diverging interests in Syria, to Turkey’s ambition to buy Russian defense systems, and the case of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who is on trial in Turkey on terrorism charges.

A Turkish delegation visited Washington for talks this week but left with no signs of a breakthrough.

After almost 20 months in a Turkish jail, Brunson was moved to house arrest in July by a court. Since then Trump and his vice president Mike Pence have repeatedly called for his release while Ankara said the decision was up to the courts.

Washington in response sanctioned two Turkish ministers and Trump on Friday announced it was doubling the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey, saying relations with Ankara were “not good at this time”.

An important emerging market, Turkey borders Iran, Iraq and Syria and has been mostly pro-Western for decades. Financial upheaval risks further destabilizing an already volatile region.