Turkey’s top bar association files complaint against contractors, gov’t officials for ‘murder’ after earthquake

Rescuers and civilians look for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, close to the quake's epicentre, the day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's southeast, on February 7, 2023. - Rescuers in Turkey and Syria braved frigid weather, aftershocks and collapsing buildings, as they dug for survivors buried by an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake's epicentre between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) has filed a complaint against the contractors and government officials they claim are responsible for the buildings leveled in Monday’s major earthquakes and the resulting high death toll, Turkish Minute reported on Friday.

Turkey’s most powerful earthquake in almost 100 years, which struck near the city of Gaziantep in the early hours of Monday, has claimed the lives of 18,342 people in the country in addition to injuring more than 74,000 so far, according to the latest official figures.

The 7.8-magnitude quake 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.

In the complaint, the TBB demanded that the suspects be prosecuted on charges of “murder” and “manslaughter” under Articles 81 and 83 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), respectively.

According to the TBB, among the suspects are the contractors for the buildings destroyed in the quakes; experts who prepared architectural, static and other kinds of plans, projects, and drawings for those buildings; officials who issued zoning and occupancy permits for them; the municipal officials who failed to conduct effective inspections and ministry officials who failed to ensure that inspections were being properly carried out; and the officials responsible for the quakes’ high death toll, mainly due to the “late, incomplete or faulty” implementation of search and rescue efforts.

Referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) widely implemented policy of impunity for public servants, the union underlined that they would closely follow the legal process to prevent officials from granting impunity to the suspects.

Meanwhile, 170 lawyers from 11 bar associations across Turkey also filed criminal complaints against the contractors and municipal officials they hold responsible for the destruction in 10 cities affected by the quakes, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Friday.

The complaints were reportedly filed with the chief public prosecutors’ offices in Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Malatya, Diyarbakır, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, Hatay, Osmaniye and Adana provinces.

The lawyers accused the contractors for the destroyed apartment blocks and the municipal officials who issued the relevant building and occupancy permits and inspected those buildings of “manslaughter” and demanded that the contractors be banned from traveling abroad.

“This disaster is neither the work of nature nor the will of God, as some buildings are [still] standing upright while those right next to them collapsed like a deck of cards, claiming the lives of thousands. … This is entirely the responsibility of those who built these rotten buildings, allowed them to be built, approved them and did not inspect them,” they said.

Following the general complaints, the lawyers are expected to file criminal complaints against specific construction companies and municipal officials in each of the 10 provinces affected by the powerful quakes as the next step, Artı Gerçek said.

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

The country’s last 7.8-magnitude temblor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in eastern Erzincan province.

Turkey’s Marmara region suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, leading to the death of more than 17,000 people.

Experts have long warned a large earthquake could devastate İstanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

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