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Turkey’s post-earthquake recovery marred by hate crimes, violence against alleged looters

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Videos circulating on social media in the wake of a devastating earthquake that hit Turkey on Feb. 6 have shown scenes of looting, aid convoys being hijacked and alleged looters being beaten by the authorities and angry mobs in earthquake-affected cities.

The videos surfaced after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which occurred in southeastern Kahramanmaraş province and 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, caused destruction and mayhem in 10 cities.

Since the window during which rescuers can still expect to find anyone still alive in the vast number of buildings that collapsed in the quakes is fast closing, anger among many survivors has mounted as they realize they have lost their loved ones after waiting for days in vain for help beside collapsed buildings.

Local media reports and videos shared on social media indicated that looting was spreading across quake-struck Turkish cities, with violent incidents such as a man forcing a rescue worker at gunpoint to focus his efforts on a particular collapsed building observed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday said the reports circulating of looting of damaged stores and buildings in Turkey have increased security concerns and that his government would crack down on those involved in looting and similar crimes.

Turkish security authorities arrested 57 people in connection with 75 looting incidents in the earthquake-hit regions, local media reported the same day, citing Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ.

However, worrying scenes continued to come in videos widely shared on social media as hate crimes and violence targeting alleged looters, especially those claimed to be Syrian or Afghan refugees, increased in the areas affected by the quakes.

According to a report by BBC News, the Austrian army relief unit, German rescue teams and other search-and-rescue workers temporarily suspended operations on Saturday, citing concerns about local violence, supply scarcity and hygiene issues.

While some police officers and soldiers in the region were struggling to rescue looters from people intent on lynching them, other security forces and some unofficial organized groups were seen in shared footage catching and beating looting suspects.

In several incidents where social media users pointed to Syrian refugees as targets and accused them of involvement in looting in the earthquake zone, the photos and videos they posted to prove their claims subsequently turned out to be false, according to Teyit.org, a Turkish verification platform that analyzes the accuracy of dubious content published on the internet.

Two Turkish youngsters depicted as looters on social media also released a video on YouTube and explained that they were earthquake victims who went to the city center to obtain medicine for their families and were unjustly beaten by security forces when returning home.

Meanwhile, the Mezopotamya news agency reported on Monday that the preliminary autopsy report of Ahmet Güreşçi, who was detained by the gendarmerie and died while in custody after allegedly looting a liquor store in Hatay died due to a “brain hemorrhage.”

His lawyers from the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD) told Mezopotamya that a lesion on his body and a fractured nose were also detected, according to the report.

The lawyers added that Güreşçi’s brother Sabri is still being held in the same gendarmerie station where his brother died allegedly due to torture and is “in a horrible state” because he is also being heavily tortured.

Noting that the gendarmes who allegedly tortured Ahmet Güreşçi to death and are allegedly torturing Sabri Güreşçi are still on duty, the lawyers said they have prepared criminal complaints and would forward them to the prosecutor’s office within the day.

Turkey’s south has been facing security problems due to the presence of paramilitary groups on the border with Syria since the outbreak of civil war in the country in 2011.

Last week’s earthquake destroyed more than 6,000 buildings in Turkey, and the death toll in the country has surpassed 29,000, according to the latest official figures.

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