Front Line Defenders calls on Turkey to stop harassment of rights defenders in quake region

Mor Dayanışma (Purple Solidarity)

Front Line Defenders has called on Turkish authorities to stop the violence, legal harassment, arbitrary arrests and threats against human rights defenders in the regions affected by devastating earthquakes in Turkey last month.

“Human rights defenders who were perceived as criticising the government are specifically targeted by security forces on the ground,” the rights organization said.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep – home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria – as people were sleeping on February 6 was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

According to Front Line Defenders, Pelin Songül Çiçek from Mor Dayanışma (Purple Solidarity) and other aid volunteers were verbally harassed and arbitrarily detained by security forces in the southern Turkish province of Hatay while distributing aid to survivors of the devastating earthquakes.

The rights group also underlined the pressure on journalists reporting on the shortcomings of the government’s earthquake response.

Many journalists on the ground reported that they were stopped by security forces while trying to cover the news and were threatened by officials not to report anything that would undermine the government, according to Front Line Defenders.

Most recently, Fırat Bulut, a journalist reporting from the region, was detained as part of an investigation for “publicly disseminating misleading information to the public.”

Turkish prosecutors have launched an investigation into Seyhan Avşar, a reporter from the pro-opposition Halk TV station, for reporting on allegations of mistreatment surrounding the death of a young man in police custody after he was detained on suspicion of looting.

Brothers Ali and İbrahim İmat, both local journalists, have been arrested pending trial in Osmaniye, one of the provinces hit by the earthquakes, due to social media posts questioning the authorities over tents allegedly withheld from quake victims in the province.

Gökhan Özbek, publisher of the independent news website and online broadcasting platform 23 Derece, was briefly detained on Wednesday due to his work.

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