Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Co-Director lawyer Veysel Ok filed a criminal complaint against mobile network (GSM) operators and the executives of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) for “misuse of public duty”, “prevention of communication”, “reckless killing” and “reckless injury.”
Commenting on the criminal complaint, lawyer Ok stated: “In a time when people were literally holding onto life via social media, this kind of recklessness and irresponsibility are unacceptable.”
On February 6th, Turkey was hit by two devastating earthquakes with 7,7 and 7,5 magnitudes in Kahramanmaraş’s Pazarcık district. The search and rescue efforts in the affected area, which are already hampered due to lack of coordination and harsh weather conditions, are made even more difficult through restrictions imposed on social media and weak mobile communication services. Many journalists in the area reported that not only their but also the work of volunteers and search & rescue teams are severely affected due to restrictions and failures of the GSM operators. Most notably, Haluk Levent, who has been carrying out impressive work in the affected area, openly protested the GSM operators.
The plight of all those in the affected area was made worse after the BTK throttled social media, including Twitter and TikTok which are both used by people under the rubble to call for help. It was claimed that the government restricted access to Twitter after their demands for the removal of the accounts of several opposition journalists and politicians were declined. Many, including journalists, MPs, volunteers and relatives of those still under the rubbles protested the restrictions.
Prevention of communication, reckless killing, reckless injury…
When GSM operators still failed to improve their services in the area after four days, lawyer Veysel Ok filed a criminal complaint against the operators for “prevention of communication (Article 124 of the Turkish Penal Code)”, “reckless killing (Article 85/2 of the Turkish Penal Code)” and “reckless injury (Article 86 of the Turkish Penal Code).”
Arguing that the restrictions imposed on social media have no legal and moral basis, Lawyer Ok also filed a criminal complaint against the executives of the BTK. In the petition it was requested that the executives be prosecuted for “misuse of public duty (Article 257 of the Turkish Penal Code)”, “prevention of communication (Article 124 of the Turkish Penal Code)”, “reckless killing (Article 85/2 of the Turkish Penal Code)” and “reckless injury (Article 86 of the Turkish Penal Code).”
Lawyer Veysel Ok: This recklessness is unacceptable
After reminding of the the fact that the Union of Turkish Bar Associations and the Contemporary Lawyers’ Association have filed a criminal complaint against building contractors and administrative authorities which have cause the death of many people, lawyer Veysel Ok underlined that mobile network operators are also responsible and that the said criminal complaint has become necessary. In that regard, Ok provided the following statement: “This recklessness is unacceptable at a time in which people are trying to survive through social media messages. While citizens from all across Turkey have mobilized to help earthquake victims, GSM operators providing the world’s most expensive communication and internet services have still not improved their services in the disaster region. This prevents journalists from doing their job and, even worse, disrupts search and rescue operations.”
With reference to the joint statement of the GSM operators, lawyer Veysel Ok said: “As a “solution,” GSM operators still call on citizens to use their phones less. Meanwhile, the same operators have one by one removed the slogans about “drone-based stations” with which they had advertised on their websites very recently. When MLSA tried to reach them, they answered that ‘the executives are in a crisis meeting.’ It is obvious that the GSM operators, instead of facilitating the communication for citizens, are trying to escape their accountability. Above all, we expect the relevant judicial authorities who respect the right to life to remind the GSM operators of their responsibilities.”
Lawyer Ok emphasized that the application of bandwidth throttling is a direct harm inflicted to people. He added that the BTK did not make any statement related to this, it even refused to answer to the parliamentarians by whom it was contacted. Ok further explained: “A state has the duty to protect its citizens. Every state institution has its own responsibilities in this context. By cutting the social media access that gave people a chance to increase their chances to survive, the BTK executives have abused their authority. This constitutes a crime everywhere in the world.”