16.05.2013 - Update: Reporters Without Borders is relieved by the lifting of censorship on the Reyhanli bombings. On appeal, a court in the nearby city of Antakya yesterday quashed the publication ban that the Reyhanli magistrate’s court issued within hours of the bombings on 11 May.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the drastic restrictions that a magistrate’s court in Reyhanli, a southern town on the Syrian border, has imposed on media coverage of two lethal car bomb explosions in Reyhanli on 11 May, outside its town hall and post office.
“The ban imposed by the Reyhanli magistrate’s court is disproportionate and violates the right to information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The bombings are among the deadliest in recent Turkish history. How could information about them not be of general interest?”
“The judicial authorities are trying to control coverage of a key story on the pretext of combatting rumours and protecting the confidentiality of the investigation. We call for the ban to be lifted at once so that the media can do their work without having to depend on official communiqués.
“The court’s vague and imprecise language also prevents news providers from assessing the extent of the ban and therefore encourages self-censorship. In practice, it will prevent the media from reporting the local population’s concerns and criticism of government policy towards Syria.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Appealing for national unity is legitimate, but it should not suppress a democratic debate about the context or political consequences of the bombings.”
At least 46 people were killed and 100 were wounded in the two car bombings in Reyhanli, which has been sheltering many Syrian refugees and which is used as a base by many NGOs operating in Syria. The bombings have fuelled concern about a regionalization of the Syrian conflict.
Within hours of the two explosions, the Reyhanli magistrate’s court issued its ban on the transmission by print and broadcast media and Internet users of “any information about the state of the dead and wounded, and about the investigation”
Posted on the website of the Higher Broadcasting Council (RTÜK), the “publication prohibition” also applies to “detailed images” of the scenes of the bombings and the wounded.
The official grounds for the ban, which was issued in response to a request by Reyhanli’s public prosecutor, are protection of the investigation’s confidentiality and protection of the privacy of the victims (under article 153 of the criminal procedure code).
The Association of Turkish Journalists (TGC) has called on the authorities to share all information of general interest with journalists and to facilitate their “already difficult” task.
Atilla Sertel, the president of the Federation of Turkish Journalists (TGF), has deplored a “tendency to issue prohibitions that offer no solution.” He said: “The publication ban will just raise more questions. It will fuel confusion and misinformation of the public.”
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which has been actively supporting the opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad in neighbouring Syria, has accused the Assad regime of being behind the bombings. Damascus has denied the charge.
Photo by: Bulent Kilic / AFP