Turkey silences earthquake response critics with Twitter ban

Turkey cracked down on social media Wednesday, just two days after being devastated by an earthquake — censoring Twitter and even arresting online detractors in an attempt to quiet criticism of its relief response, according to reports.

Several internet providers in the country refused Twitter access to their customers, according to Netblocks, a London-based global internet monitor. 

The move to shield their citizens from seeing critiques of their government’s handling of the response to the deadly tremor — which has already claimed at least 11,000 lives — could have fatal consequences, as locals continue rely on social media to organize and learn of relief and rescue work.

People trapped under the rubble but still able to access their phones have been using Twitter to share their location with first reponders and call for help, a journalist for The Economist tweeted.

Turkish police also detained at least 18 people and arrested at least five citizens for making “provocative posts,” Semafor reported

Picture of Erdogan walking through the rubble.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Kahramanmaras on Wednesdey, where the city center was destroyed by the Monday earthquake.

Prosecutors also began investigating two journalists for saying that the government response’s to the temblor has fallen short, according to Balkan Insight. 

“Turkish authorities decided to throttle and limit access to the Twitter platform from Turkey while rescue efforts continue after the major earthquake,” tweeted Yaman Akdeniz, a Turkish cyber rights activist. “Needless to say, keeping all communications channels open is vital during this crucial moment.”

President Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged Wednesday there have been problems with the disaster relief, after many in the country’s regions struck by the powerful 7.8 magnitude quake and its aftershocks felt the government was slow to reach them.

“This is a time for unity, solidarity. In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest,” said Erdogan, who is up for reelection in May. 

The strongman also suggested there was no way to prepare for a disaster of this size, and encouraged the media not to acknowledge “provocateurs.”

Erdogan said Tuesday he would not allow “disinformation” about the earthquake to spread online, but it’s unclear what his definition of that word is.

Picture of blocks of the Kahramanmaras leveled by the quake.
An aerial photo shows the destruction in Kahramanmaras, Turkey.

Turkish citizens said rescuers were ill-equipped to save people from the rubble, sometimes hearing the cries of those trapped under collapsed building but lacking the tools to rescue them.

“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” Sabiha Alinak said near the ruins of a building under which her family was trapped.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who leads Turkey’s main opposition party, said he refuses to “look at what is happening as above politics and align with the ruling party.

“This collapse is exactly the result of systematic profiteering politics,” he claimed. “If there is anyone responsible for this process, it is Erdogan. It is this ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years.”

With Post wires

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