Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Journalism in quake zone: Journalists report obstructions, harassments

Journalism in quake zone: Journalists report obstructions, harassments

Within the second week that followed devastating earthquakes, journalists covering the disaster continued to report widespread obstructions. Journalist Mir Ali Koçer investigated for his reporting. Earthquakes claimed the lives of 26 journalists in the region


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.

The death toll exceeded 41,000 people as of 20 February 2023, according to the figures announced by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD).

Journalists who have been covering the disaster aftermath in the quake-hit provinces since 6 February continued to report widespread obstructions and harassments by officials or civilians within the second week after the disaster.

The number of journalist reported to have been killed in the earthquakes, on the other hand, has climbed to 26. According to a list published by the Turkish Journalists’ Federation (TGF), 21 journalists and two media employees died in the earthquakes. Those who lost their lives are as follows: Ayşe Figen Arlı (İskenderun Ses), Aziz Çevik (Manşet), Burak Alkuş (Adıyaman Ses), Burak Milli (Anadolu Agency / Hatay), Gökhan Aklan (İhlas News Agency / Hatay), Hidayet Özdemir (Journalist -Writer), İskender Korkut (Mercan TV), İzzet Nazlı (Demirören News Agency/Hatay), Kemal Öner (Adıyaman Telgraf), Meltem Özgen (TV host/Adana), Muhammed Akan (Adıyaman Haber), Mustafa Yüzbaşıoğlu (Bugün), Neşet Alkan (Haber Ekspres), Ruhi Akan (Jet Haber), Yunus Emre Doğan (Mercan TV), Zübeyir Pektaş (Halkın Sesi), Fatih Bayın (Radyo Tek), Erhan Yılmaz (23 Temmuz newspaper), H. Seid Okay (Hatay), Mehmet Tekin (Özyurt newspaper), Berkay Akay (Hatay), Fatih Nalbantbaşı (Maraş Gündem), İsmail Hakkı Koçak (Adıyaman).

İsmail Karaoğlan (Antakya newspaper), Rafi Sümbültepe (President of the Arsuz Journalists’ Association) and Barış Can Tabakçı were also reported to have been killed in the earthquakes.

Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) Representative to İskenderun, Hatay, Akın Bodur, has been taken to İstanbul for treatment after he was rescued from the wreckage.

Journalist summoned to give statement for earthquake coverage

Diyarbakır-based journalist Mir Ali Koçer was summoned to the provincial police headquarters to give his statement as part of an investigation launched over his social media posts that feature his post-earthquake reporting. The prosecutor in charge of the investigation accused him of “spreading false information” in the posts concerned.

Koçer in his statement explained that he had visited nine quake-affected areas within 10 days, making interviews with AFAD officials, survivors and law enforcement officials, and shared both his own observations and his interviewees’ remarks without any comment.

Koçer’s lawyer said that her client’s “journalistic practice was restricted by such judicial threat.” Noting that Koçer was summoned without carrying out a reliable fact-checking process and arguing that the elements of a crime did not exist, the journalist’s lawyer demanded that the investigation be dismissed.

Koçer was obstructed by a police officer while he was interviewing a quake victim in Kahramanmaraş on 9 February.

Harassments and obstructions

Several journalists reporting from the quake-affected region reported that they were obstruced when covering developments and asked by law enforcement officials to show permits issued by local governorships or district governorships.

Other developments reported in the aftermath of the earthquakes are as follows:

On 15 February, a group of armed people attempted to block the vehicle of Tele 1 reporter Hazal Güven and cameraman Umutcan Yitük in the province of Hatay where the two journalists had been covering the aftermath of the earthquake. The group ran away after the journalists called the police for help.

On 13 February, the journalists' trade union DİSK-Basın İş announced that journalist Murat Bay had been targeted on social media over a social media post about a Syrian refugee, who was misidentified as a looter and battered by a group of people while searching for his son in the rubble.

On 16 February, Fox TV reporter Gülşah İnce attempted to ask a question to Kahramanmaraş Mayor Hayrettin Güngör, who had arrived at a quake zone to inspect the rescue efforts at the demolished Ebrar Housing Estate. However, someone accompanying Güngör pushed away İnce to prevent her from following up her question. Another person from mayor’s entourage also tried to push away cameraman Çağlar Güner.

On 16 February, journalist Cem Seymen announced his resignation from CNN Türk which had called for his resignation after his critical comments on the earthquake.

Government ally Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) Deputy Chair Feti Yıldız has filed a criminal complaint with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against journalist Can Ataklı, who had criticized the government over the quakes. Claiming that Ataklı had “used the quake to score political goals,” Yıldız claimed Ataklı had committed the offenses of “spreading false information,” “denigrating religious values” and “denigrating the state institutions.”

The National Police Directorate announced on 15 February that 613 social media accounts were determined to have shared provocative posts on the earthquake. 78 people were arrested, 20 of them have been imprisoned pending trial.

RTÜK interventions

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) responded to criticism that it was interfering with television channels’ coverage of the earthquake aftermath, saying it only “warned our media institutions with good intentions about false information, disinformation and broadcasts that would harm national unity and integrity.” In a statement, RTÜK also slammed its critics, including opposition politicians, saying it “will not bow to threats from any political party” and asserted that it will not “seek permission from anyone while imposing lawful sanctions against those media institutions who disregard our warnings and seek to foment societal polarization.”

Reports of RTÜK intervention in earthquake coverage, however, continued. In a report dated 18 February, Diken news portal said the television channels were asked to reduce their coverage of the earthquake aftermath in order to “help transition to routine broadcasts.” Citing government and RTÜK sources, Diken said television networks were also warned against “broadcasting from crowded scenes” and urged to “take measures against passers-by abruptly joining live broadcasts.” They were also asked to ensure that cameras focus on the reporter, instead of zooming out to include the scenes of overall destruction.