Turkey’s transportation minister has defended a controversial restriction of the internet in the country’s south and southeast following two powerful earthquakes that struck the region on Feb. 6, claiming it was necessary but failing to justify the action.
In a move that obstructed search and rescue efforts, the Turkish government restricted Twitter on multiple internet providers following the deadly earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people.
At the time of the restriction, people including those trapped under the rubble were tweeting their locations to ask for help. In some cases, search and rescue teams were directed to the flattened buildings based on information obtained from Twitter users.
Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu was asked about the bandwidth restriction in the earthquake zone during a program on HaberTürk TV station on Thursday evening.
The minister said the internet restriction was necessary.
“If it had been wrong, we wouldn’t have done it. There was a technical explanation for it. There was a disaster, and that step had to be taken,” said the minister, without elaborating on the specific reasons behind the internet restriction.
Ulaştırma bakanı Adil Karaismailoğlu 6 Şubat'ta onbinlerce insan enkaz altında yardıma ulaşmaya çalışırlarken internet iletişiminde bant daraltmayı savunuyor:
"Gerekiyordu ki, yapıldı!" pic.twitter.com/XmgnPHx67w
— bianet (@bianet_org) April 6, 2023
He also said he and two staff members were involved in in judicial proceedings based on a complaint filed by an opposition party accusing them of misconduct in office by restricting communication.
“Network data confirm the restriction of Twitter on multiple internet providers in Turkey as of Wednesday 8 February 2023. The incident comes as authorities raise concerns over disinformation online, although no formal explanation has been provided,” global internet monitor NetBlocks said at the time.
Turkey has a longstanding policy of restricting access to social media platforms following natural disasters, explosions, political incidents and terrorist attacks, and it has been criticized for limiting access to support and assistance and curtailing press freedom in times of emergency.
A “disinformation” law, which cements the government’s already-firm grip on social media platforms and news websites while criminalizing the sharing of information, was approved by parliament with the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in October, although it was vehemently opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups.
The legislation, which came in advance of a presidential election, was described by critics from within and without Turkey as yet another attack on free speech.
The Turkish government is accused of failing to mobilize enough people for recovery efforts and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves.