ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has imposed a ban on media reporting about the seizure by Islamic militants of Turkish diplomats and soldiers from the country’s consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Ankara’s broadcasting authority said on Tuesday.
Insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized 49 Turks, including special forces soldiers, diplomats and children last Wednesday, prompting criticism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government for failing to foresee the danger and evacuate the consulate sooner.
An Ankara court imposed the reporting ban on the grounds of protecting the safety of those held, according to a copy of the ruling published by the RTUK broadcasting authority.
Erdogan, whose government imposed bans on Facebook and YouTube during a recent corruption scandal, is keen to avoid negative publicity ahead of a presidential election in August in which he is expected to stand.
Critics and rights groups have frequently accused Erdogan of seeking to cow the media, pointing to the high number journalists in detention, pressure on editors to steer clear of coverage critical of the government, and recent bans imposed on Facebook and YouTube as a corruption scandal swirled.
Erdogan has accused the opposition of trying to make political capital out of the Mosul events and said its comments on the subject risked the lives of those being held.
The foreign ministry said on Saturday the group had no option but to surrender after hundreds of heavily armed militants surrounded the consulate building.
The ISIL offensive threatens to dismember Iraq and leaves Turkey facing a widening Islamist insurgency in two of its southern neighbours, with ISIL also making territorial gains in Syria near the Turkish border.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on Monday for the immediate release of the Turks held in Mosul.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton