Government to abuse “disinformation” to arrest journalists

This was an expected outcome of the so-called disinformation law. I still believe that the government had enough in its arsenal to imprison the journalists without this law. However, it streamlines the process. Using a popular and anxiety-causing term/ pretext to criminalize and sentence people without much friction.

It was not the first time disinformation was used to sentence a journalist but this week we happened to witness several journalists to be detained and imprisoned quickly. Tolga Şardan case is particularly heart-breaking. He was not known to be a political figure, and he focused on the judiciary reporting throughout his career.  Şardan’s case points out the difficulties of legislating disinformation. He reported a Turkish Intelligence report sent to the presidency about the corruption in the judiciary system. The government-owned disinformation center declared that there is not a report such as that! How can you claim that an intelligence report exists or not? A reporter can investigate it but a public authority cannot use its power to declare if it is a fact or not. By its nature, intelligence reports are secretive. How can you just say it exists or not? This case is best to show abusive intentions.

In the last 24 hours;

✔️ Journalist Tolga Şardan detained, arrested

✔️Gazeteci Dinçer Gökçe detained, released

✔️Gazeteci Cengiz Erdinç detained

✔️ “disinformation” investigation launched against BirGün

✔️Özgür Dilşa Kocakaya, whose sentence was upheld in the “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” case at Gündem Newspaper, was arrested

✔️ In the lawsuit filed against Hicran Urun, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, İshak Yasul, Pınar Tarlak and İhsan Yaşar, employees of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi Newspaper, which was closed down by a state of emergency decree, 6 journalists were asked to be sentenced!

This week, the Turkish government used the Disinformation Law against journalists in several instances. Here are the details:

– Journalist Tolga Şardan was arrested in Ankara on the charge of “publicly disseminating misleading information” under Article 217/A of Law No. 5237[1]. This article is regulated under the so-called “disinformation law” introduced in October 2022, and those convicted face a prison sentence of up to three years for the offense[1].

– Journalists Tolga Sardan and Dincer Gokce were separately detained and charged under the “disinformation law” for allegedly “spreading false information”[2]. The law partly targets those who spread false information online about Turkey’s security to “create fear and disturb public order,” which Ankara says is needed to protect the public[2].

– The Disinformation Law was ratified by Turkey’s parliament last week, introducing jail terms for journalists and social media users who spread “fake news” or disinformation[4]. The law includes articles such as press card issuances and a procedure on correcting online disinformation. On top of that, sentences can be increased by up to half if the disinformation is spread through anonymous accounts[4].

– The Disinformation Law is seen as a threat to free expression and could lead to self-censorship[3][5]. The law is draconian and introduces prison terms for disseminating misleading news, which will automatically incentivize self-regulation through intimidation, diminishing the space for public debate[3]. The lack of a concrete definition of disinformation will lead to arbitrary powers to the government to criticize journalism[6].

– Earlier this year, journalist Sinan Aygül became the first journalist to be convicted under the Disinformation Law[1][2]. Şardan’s arrest marks the 13th alert on Mapping Media Freedom concerning Disinformation Law cases[1].

Citations:
[1] https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/11/02/turkey-journalist-arrested-over-judicial-corruption-article
[2] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/arrests-two-prominent-turkish-reporters-stokes-free-speech-concerns-2023-11-02/
[3] https://carnegieendowment.org/2022/12/19/turkey-s-new-disinformation-law-affects-more-than-meets-eye-pub-88633
[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2022/10/21/turkish-reporters-slam-countrys-new-fake-news-law.html
[5] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/11/turkeys-new-disinformation-law-spells-trouble-free-expression
[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/13/turkey-new-disinformation-law-could-jail-journalists-for-3-years

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