Journalists in Turkey covering the aftermath of two powerful earthquakes that occurred on 6 February with their epicenter in Kahramanmaraş, affecting ten provinces, have reported police officers trying to block their work and at least four journalists have been detained and released while reporting on the earthquake.
On 8 February the Turkish government declared State of Emergency in the affected provinces of Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Diyarbakır, Adana, Osmaniye, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, Malatya and Hatay.
Some journalists in Diyarbakır reported that they were prevented from taking images in the region by police officers demanding that they show press cards issued by the presidential communications office.
Between 6 February and 9 February, at least four journalists in the earthquake region were detained.
On 7 February, Evrensel daily’s Adana correspondent Volkan Pekal was detained by police officers while filming at Adana City Hospital on charges of shooting “without permission”. He was released from the police department later on. The journalist said the police had that the filming ban was the result of a “ verbal order.”
On 8 February, Mesopotamia Agency (MA) correspondent Mahmut Altıntaş and Jin News Agency correspondent Sema Çağlak were detained on the basis that they didn’t have an official press card issued by the presidency’s communications directorate. Shortly after the release of the two journalists, MA correspondent Mehmet Gülaş was detained in Diyarbakır on charges of “inciting the public to hatred.”
Several journalists have tweeted about similar attempts to prevent their work in the region:
Internet slowdowns and detentions for social media posts
On 8 February, reports indicated deliberate slowdown of social media platforms starting at 4:06 pm. Twitter was inaccessible for users without a VPN. Data released by NetBlocks, an organization which measures net blockages, also showed throttling or slowdown of social media platforms. Journalist Cüneyt Özdmeir said officials from the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) confirmed they were narrowing the bandwidth for Twitter. Other sites and platforms affected included TikTok, Ekşi Sözlük, Whatsapp and Google services.
Twitter restrictions were lifted late after 2 am inThursday morning, about ten minutes after Omer Fatih Sayan, Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, held a meeting with Twitter Head of Global Government Relations John Hughes and Twitter Turkey Director of Public Policy Ronan Costello.
Sayan said Twitter had promised to cooperate with Turkey in fighting disinformation online.
Investigations into users and social media detentions
Academic Özgün Emre Koç was detained on suspicion of “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” on 7 February after tweeting criticism about post-disaster relief management. He was released after appearing before a prosecutor.
The Istnabul’s Prosecutor’s Office also launched investigations into journalists Merdan Yanardağ and Enver Aysever following the two journalists’ tweets about disaster relief efforts.
The National Police Department announced that as of 9 February, 274 user accounts found to be spreading disinformation or provocation had been identified and nine out of 31 detentions over social media posts had been arrested.
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