Press Freedom

Religious Affairs staff seizes and smashes foreign journalists’ equipment covering earthquake

Three Greek journalists who were in Turkey to cover the aftermath of the 6 February earthquakes say their equipment, including phones and cameras, was confiscated by employees of the Presidency of Religious Affairs, who returned the equipment after smashing it.

On 16 February, freelance journalists Kyriakos Finas, Victoras Antonopoulos and Konstantinos Zilos, who were filming a mass burial site in the Narlıca neighborhood of Hatay’s Antakya district at 13:00, said they were warned against taking images by Religious Affairs staff accompanied by several gendarmerie soldiers in the area. 

The third journalist, Zilos, who had gone ahead of the others and was further away, didn’t hear the warning and photographed the burial site 

The journalists, who had planned to leave the site without filming when their friend returned, were instead taken to an administrative building belonging to the Presidency of Religious Affairs, where their cameras and equipment were confiscated.

The journalists were kept waiting outside this building for five hours, but still weren’t given their equipment back. In the evening, they returned to their hotel and contacted officials at the Greek Embassy.

After this initiative, the journalists contacted Ali Imran Turgut, Adana Regional Director of the Directorate of Communications, on 17 February and were told that they could pick up the equipment at the administrative building of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, located near the cemetery.

The journalists said that three cell phones and two cameras, which they estimate to be worth a total of 4500 euros, were handed over to them after being smashed into pieces.

On 21 February; the journalists who had returned to Athens were told by the communications attaché at the Turkish Embassy in Athens that they would receive two new cameras as a “gift” from Anadolu Agency. However, the journalists said the Turkish officials didn’t follow through.

The three journalists that all material related to their reporting in the region had also been lost.

Antonopoulos, one of the journalists preparing to file a lawsuit, said, “Both our equipment and the footage on our cameras were confiscated. We will take legal action to reclaim our broken equipment, but also for being prevented from doing our job and for losing our news material.”

Veysel Ok, Co-Director of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), which is providing legal assistance to the journalists, said: “At a time when solidarity and the media are so important, there can be no legal or moral grounds for destroying journalists’ equipment. We will not only seek compensation for the damage, but also file a criminal complaint to identify and punish the Religious Affairs officials who committed this crime.”