LONDON: Turkish authorities on Wednesday arrested 78 people, placing 20 of them in pre-trial detention, over allegations of creating fear and panic by “sharing provocative posts” about the recent earthquake on social media.
Of 613 people accused by Turkiye’s General Directorate of Security of creating provocative posts, 293 have had legal proceedings initiated against them, with 78 arrested, Reuters reported.
In a statement on Tuesday, media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists said that reporters in Turkiye must be allowed to cover the aftermath of the devastating quake freely and safely.
The committee also urged Turkish authorities to, “drop investigations into any members of the press.”
Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria on Feb. 6, Turkish authorities had arrested at least four journalists, hindered the work of six other press workers, and started criminal investigations into two reporters and one commentator, according to the CPJ.
The Turkish security directorate also said 46 websites were shut down for containing “phishing scams” to steal donations and 15 social media accounts were closed for posing as official institutions.
Following the quake, Turkiye blocked access to Twitter for about 12 hours from Wednesday afternoon to early Thursday citing attempts to curb the spread of disinformation.
In a tweet on Monday, Turkish communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said that his country was experiencing “serious information pollution,” adding that authorities would share a daily bulletin correcting false information.
About 6,200 items of false information and news were reported to the government within a week of the earthquake, Altun said.
Gulnoza Said, the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York, on Monday said: “Turkish authorities should not interfere with the journalists reporting on the terrible earthquake that recently hit the southern parts of the country and should allow them to inform the Turkish people and the world on the magnitude of this disaster.
“Authorities should drop all investigations into members of the press, allow reporters to work freely, and ensure that journalists can work without fear of harassment.”
Turkiye’s parliament ratified last October a law that would see journalists and social media users jailed for up to three years for spreading disinformation.
The death toll in Turkiye and Syria from the earthquake had on Wednesday exceeded 41,000, and millions of people need urgent humanitarian aid, Reuters said.