Media censorship in Türkiye earthquake zone

Feb 17, 2023

In the hands of bad actors—whether public or private—generative AI tools can supercharge existing threats to free expression.

In this statement signed by PEN Sydney and other PEN Centres we call on the government of Türkiye to uphold freedom of expression and access to information following the devastating earthquakes

The PEN centres signatory below wish to offer their deepest sympathy and support to all those affected by the two earthquakes that hit south eastern Türkiye and Syria on 6 February 2023. Over 41,000 people have been confirmed dead at the time of writing, with tens of thousands still missing. We express our condolences to the families of the victims and reiterate our solidarity with friends at PEN Türkiye and Kurdish PEN.

We also protest, in the strongest terms, the censorship and media control being deployed by Türkiye’s government in the wake of this disaster. We urge the authorities to respect the crucial need for access to sites such as Twitter, TikTok, Google, and Facebook, particularly when vital solidarity activities are being organised online.

We support the Journalists’ Union of Türkiye who are recording and protesting the prevention of journalists fulfilling their role, and Türkiye -based NGO Media Law Studies Association’s co-founder, lawyer Veysel Ok, who has launched a criminial complaint against mobile network (GSM) operators and the executives of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) for “misuse of public duty”, “prevention of communication”, “reckless killing” and “reckless injury.”

PEN Norway’s President, Kjersti Løken Stavrum denounced the restriction of internet access in Türkiye, saying, “The use of social media by victims trapped under fallen buildings in the past week has saved lives. We would urge the government of Türkiye to fully implement and adhere to all constitutional and European Convention-protected rights of its citizens at this time of great need. Media freedom is always important but at times like this it is absolutely indispensable. We send our support and solidarity to all journalists working under these terribly difficult conditions.”

Multiple arrests of journalists have been reported in the wake of the earthquakes, including that of Evrensel journalist Volkan Pekal on 7 February after taking pictures of a state hospital in Adana. Journalists Mahmût Altintaş and Sema Çağlak were also arrested: they were subsequently released, having had their journalist cards confiscated following interrogation.

Criminal investigations have been initiated against two other journalists, Merdan Yanardağ and Enver Aysever, for ‘incitement to hatred or hostility’. Political scientist Özgün Emre Koç was detained for sharing information about the earthquake on social media and was released after being detained overnight.  It has come to our attention that only journalists in possession of the turquoise press cards introduced to replace yellow cards in 2018 are permitted to report from the area. However, due to the alleged slow processing and upgrading of said cards, many professional journalists are still waiting for the issue of new turquoise press cards.

Türkiye’s restriction on the dissemination of  news at a time when communication is vital to effective emergency relief efforts is absolutely unacceptable. The launch of the divisive ‘Disinformation Reporting application’ – which encourages users to report accounts that share misinformation – came at a time when the whole country and wider world were trying to work to save lives and coordinate support for survivors.

We further urge the government of Türkiye not to use the implemented three month state of emergency period in the affected areas to further deprive citizens of their rights of access to reliable news sources and communication methods. This is a time for adherence to media freedom standards, especially in the lead up to the forthcoming elections.

The undersigned PEN centres will continue to monitor the situation for freedom of expression in south eastern Türkiye during the imposed state of emergency in the affected areas. We wish courage and strength to all those working to support the rights and needs of survivors and victims of this devastating event. 


PEN Norway

PEN International

PEN Türkiye

Kurdish PEN

Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre

PEN Netherlands

Swedish PEN

Danish PEN

Wales PEN Cymru

San Miguel PEN Centre

Croatian PEN

PEN Armenia

PEN Quebec

English PEN

Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann

PEN Esperanto

PEN Melbourne

PEN Sydney

PEN Lebanon

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