Press Freedom

Journalists covering quake aftermath continue to face obstacles 

Journalists reporting from the earthquake-stricken provinces after two devastating earthquakes hit the city of Kahrmanamaraş, affecting ten of Turkey’s provinces, continued to report obstructions to their work on the fourth day after the disaster.

Journalist Mehmet Güleş, a reporter with the Mesopotamia News Agency (MA), who had been detained on 8 February in Diyarbakır while conducting an interview with a survivor, was interrogated and released under judicial measures. During the interrogation, prosecutors asked Güleş whether the person whom he interviewed complained that  rescue squads from Turkey’s Disaster and Management Authority (AFAD) and the National Medical Rescue Team (UMKE) were “non-existent” in the region.

Güleş and his  interviewee now both face charges of “openly spreading misleading information,” a crime under article 217 of the Turkish Criminal Code.

Editor-in-chief of the Tele1 news network, Merdan Yanardağ, against whom an investigation was launched on charges of “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” over his tweets criticizing disaster management, reported that he had testified to authorities on Friday, 10 February. Yanardağ said he was released with an international travel ban after his interrogation. Another journalist, Enver Aysever, faces a similar investigation over his tweets about the earthquake.

In the evening of 10 February, documentarist Kazım Kızıl said Riot Police had prevented him from filming in Hatay, and also put him in danger by casting him as a target for those present in the area.

Journalist  İrem Afşin reported that she had encountered attempts from security forces  to prevent filming in the province of Şanlıurfa after Turkey announced a State of Emergency in the affected areas on 8 February.

Journalist Mir Ali Koçer shared a video on Twitter, showing that a police officer intervened as the journalist talked with a survivor who is critical of the government’s disaster relief efforts in Kahramanmaraş. In the footage, a police officer stops the interview and is heard saying “the state is here.”

Ferit Demir, a reporter for Halk TV said during a live broadcast that he had been prevented by a police officer and was physically attacked by the same person as he worked in Malatya.

Fırat Fıstık, another Halk TV journalist tweeted that security forces in Hatay stopped him and his crew several times within the same hour, alleging that there is a ban on filming in the area. At least one of these attempts was caught on camera.

On 8 February, Turkey declared a State of Emergency in the disaster areas, comprising 10 provinces mainly in Turkey’s southeast. The authorities had also narrowed the bandwidth of several social media platforms, starting with Twitter, although such an action has no basis in law.

Between 6 February – when the earthquake struck – and 10 February , four journalists working in the region were detained by police — along with an interviewee in one of the instances and at least five journalists have met with physical attempts to stop them from filming. At least two journalists now face investigations over tweets criticizing disaster-relief efforts.

The National Police Department said as of 10 February, 37 people had been detained and 10 arrested over “provocative” posts regarding the earthquake. The Police  Department said in total it had identified 302 such user accounts.