Within the first week that followed devastating earthquakes, 4 journalists detained; scores of journalists assaulted or prevented from reporting; investigation launched against 2 journalists. 17 journalists residing in quake-affected provinces died
On 6 February 2023, two powerful earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.6 caused massive destruction across Turkey’s southeastern provinces, killing tens of thousands of people in 10 provinces. A day later, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a temporary State of Emergency (OHAL) in these 10 provinces for three months.
Many journalists were among the victims of the earthquakes as well. According to a list drawn up by media ombudsman Faruk Bildirici, at least 17 local journalists died in the earthquakes in the three worst-affected provinces: Hatay, Kahramanmaraş and Adıyaman. The journalists who are reported to have been killed are: Ayşe Figen Arlı (İskenderun Ses), Aziz Çevlik (Manşet / Kahramanmaraş), Burak Alkuş (Adıyaman Ses), Burak Milli (Anadolu Agency / Hatay), Gökhan Aklan (İhlas News Agency / Hatay), Hidayet Özdemir (journalist -writer / Adıyaman), İskender Korkut (Mercan TV / Adıyaman), İzzet Nazlı (Demirören News Agency / Hatay), Kemal Öner (Adıyaman Telgraf), Meltem Özgen (TV host / Adana), Muhammed Akan (Adıyaman Haber) Mustafa Yüzbaşıoğlu (Bugün / Kahramanmaraş), Neşet Alkan (Haber Ekspres / Hatay), Ruhi Akan (Jet Haber / Adıyaman), Yunus Emre Doğan (Mercan TV / Adıyaman), Zübeyir Pektaş (Halkın Sesi / Adıyaman), Fatih Bayın (Radyo Tek / Adıyaman).
Journalist Akın Bodur, the representative of the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) in İskenderun district of Hatay, was pulled alive from the rubble but he sustained injuries.
Mezopotamya Agency reporter Abdurrahman Gök was injured in a car accident caused by debris falling on the road as he was covering the earthquake aftermath in rural areas. He was hospitalized with non-critical injuries.
4 journalists detained
Journalists who flocked to the quake-affected region to cover search-and-rescue and relief efforts have reported widespread obstructions by law enforcement authorities. Some have said they were not allowed to report from the area without a Presidency-sanctioned press card, although others in other areas said they were required to possess a press card issued by any media outlet.
Evrensel newspaper Adana reporter Volkan Pekal was arrested on 7 February when he was covering the situation in the Adana City Hospital, where many quake survivors were brought for treatment, for “unauthorized filming,” as per verbal instructions issued by the Governor’s Office that banned filming without prior permission. Pekal was processed under Article 134 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK), which criminalizes “violation of privacy of personal life.” He was released later in the same day.
Mezopotamya Agency reporters Mahmut Altıntaş and JinNews reporter Sema Çağlak were arrested on 8 February for not having Presidency-issued turquoise press cards as they were filming collapsed buildings in Birecik district of Şanlıurfa. They were released after being processed at the Birecik Police Department.
Mezopotamya News Agency reporter Mehmet Güleş was arrested on 8 February as he was interviewing a search-and-rescue volunteer in front of the rubble of a collapsed building in Diyarbakır’s Bağlar district. Güleş and the voluntary worker were taken to a police station and remained in custody until the following day. Güleş was asked during his questioning whether he knew the person he interviewed and whether that person made comments that criticized state institutions’ response to the disaster. He was accused of “spreading false information” under Article 217/A of the TCK, commonly known as the “disinformation law,” and was released under judicial control measures after appearing before a criminal judge of peace late on 9 February.
The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office started on 7 February an investigation into journalists Enver Aysever and Merdan Yanardağ for “inciting people to hatred and enmity” over a television program on earthquake response. Yanardağ said he gave his statement as part of the investigation on 10 February and released with an international travel ban.
Political scientist Özgün Emre Koç was arrested on allegation of "inciting people to hatred and enmity" over his social media posts on the earthquake on 7 February. Koç was subsequently released after being kept in police custody for one night.
The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into musician and Internet personality Oğuzhan Uğur on charges of “spreading false information” for social media posts that included allegations that the walls of a dam in the earthquake-stricken Hatay cracked. Uğur went to the İstanbul Courthouse and was released after giving his statement at the press prosecutor’s office on 13 February.
The National Police Directorate announced on 13 February that 475 social media accounts were determined to have shared provocative posts on the earthquake. 56 people were arrested, 14 of them have been imprisoned pending trial.
Scores of journalists face obstructions
Law enforcement officers prevented journalists from filming rubbles in Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır on 7 February. The police officers cited the State of Emergency (OHAL) declared by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as justification for the obstruction and directed the journalists to locations inconvenient for news coverage.
Ceren Kaynak İskit said that they have been prevented from gathering information at the scene: “On our first day (7 February) in Diyarbakır, the chief of the police team tried to obstruct us while we were filming the wreckage. I also faced another obstruction in Kahramanmaraş. The police threatened and prevented us from filming the families who were trying to identify their loved ones among the corpses. When I showed my temporary accreditation card, he said, ‘Leave this place, you are spreading manipulation.’ The AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) did not give us any information when we wanted to know how many people died. We are really struggling in finding out the real numbers.”
French political magazine LePoint reporter Guillaume Perrier was denied entry to Turkey on 8 February as per an administrative decision dated November 2022 on the grounds of “national security.”
Journalist İrem Afşin said that the law enforcement officers who had helped them during their coverage on 7 February, began to prevent them from filming following the declaration og the State of Emergency on 8 February.
Journalist Mir Ali Koçer was obstructed by a police officer while he was interviewing an earthquake victim on 9 February.
Halk TV reporter Ferit Demir said he was prevented from filming a rescue operation on 10 February in the eastern province of Malatya and that he was later kicked in the leg by a police officer.
Halk TV reporter Fırat Fıstık stated that the gendermarie forces attempted to prevent him during a live broadcast in Hatay on 9 February.
Halk TV reporter Şirin Payzın said that she was attacked by some people who “appeared to be regular citizens” near rubbles in Antakya, Hatay on 10 February.
Kazım Kızıl said that his coverage was verbally and physically obstructed by the riot police even though he had showed them his press card in Kahramanmaraş on 10 February.
Fox TV reporter Sevgi Şahin and his cameraman Ömür Dikme were attacked by a group of people just before a live broadcast in Pazarcık, Kahramanmaraş on 10 February.
Artı Gerçek reporter Yağmur Kaya said that she faced a lynch attempt by a group of people while she was getting ready for a broadcast at the Yeniköy Terminal in Malatya on 11 February.
Freelance journalist Arzu Efeoğlu was verbally assaulted by three unidentified people while she was interviewing survivors who took refuge in makeshift tents at a park in Gaziantep on 11 February.
Journalist Anıl Olcan was attacked by a police officer and some civilians while filming in Hatay on 11 February. Olcan said that the police officer destroyed his camera batteries, memory card, hard disk and press card by throwing them in a fire.
Journalist Rabia Çetin announced that she was attacked by village guards at a wreckage site in Yeni Mahalle, Adıyaman on 11 February, and barely survived it thanks to a group of earthquake victims.
Journalist Ahmet Kanbal said that a village guard attempted to obstruct him in Cumhuriyet neighborhood, Adıyaman on 11 February.
Journalist Gülbahar Altaş was obstructed by a group of people while she was filming a quarrel among locals in Diyarbakır.
Journalist Şilan Çelik said she and her colleague were filmed by four unidentified men who accused them of “demeaning the state in their reports” as they were interviewing an earthquake survivor pleading for a tent for her and disabled son in Islahiye, Gaziantep.
Show TV prime-time anchorwoman Dilara Gönder, who had criticized on air earthquake preparedness measures, announced on her Twitter account on 9 February that she had resigned.
Bandwidth throttling and access blocks
Access to Twitter was restricted by means of bandwidth throttling on 8 February, according to data-driven online service NetBlocks. Users also had difficulty in accessing TikTok, one of the largest online communities in Turkey Ekşi Sözlük website, Instagram, WhatsApp and Google services. The restriction ended following a late night video conference between Vice Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Ömer Fatih, Twitter Director of Partnerships and Communities at Community Integrated Care John Hughes and Europe lead for Twitter's Global Government Affairs team Ronan Costello.
Access to Etkin News Agency’s (ETHA) Twitter account was blocked on 9 February. ETHA journalists said that the decision was taken due to some social media posts on the earthquake. On the same day, Taha Hüseyin Karagöz from the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily accused ETHA reporter Elif Bayburt on Twitter of “terrorism propaganda.” Taking a photo of Bayburt and her press card from a distance and sharing them on his social media account, Karagöz also posted ETHA’s previous tweets with a message reading, “Anyone wondering how false, misleading and manipulative contents are produced?”
Diyarbakır-based Amed Radyo Tv posted some reports on its Twitter account about an alleged riot in Elbistan Prison. First the post has been removed by Twitter, then the account was suspended for 11 hours. The account is now active again.