Turkish journalist Tolga Şardan (above) was detained by police on November 1. Editor Dinçer Gökçe (bottom left) and reporter Cengiz Erdinç were also detained. (Screen shots: YouTube)

In Turkey, 3 journalists detained for ‘disinformation,’ 1 jailed, 3 others under investigation

Istanbul, November 2, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Turkish authorities on Thursday to immediately release journalists Tolga Şardan and Cengiz Erdinç, drop “disinformation” charges against them, and overturn an order for editor Dinçer Gökçe to read and summarize books about his profession.

In two separate cases on Wednesday, police in the Turkish capital of Ankara, took Şardan, a columnist for the independent news website T24, into custody and detained Gökçe, news editor of the pro-opposition broadcaster Halk TV, in Istanbul, according to news reports.

The two journalists were detained under a 2022 disinformation law that introduced prison sentences of up to three years for spreading false information about security, public order, and the general health of the country that causes concern, fear, or panic.

Police searched Şardan’s house and an Ankara court ordered the journalist be jailed pending trial over a column he published about a report prepared by the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT) on corruption in the Turkish judiciary, T24 and others reported.

The Center for Combating Disinformation, run by the presidency’s Directorate of Communications, denied the existence of a report by the MIT on corruption in the judiciary via a post on X, formerly Twitter.

CPJ has signed a joint statement with more than a dozen press freedom and human rights groups condemning Şardan’s arrest.

In Gökçe’s case, he was detained at his workplace over an article he wrote about the release of convicted criminals from prison, which proved to be inaccurate as the men remained behind bars. Later on Wednesday, an Istanbul court released Gökçe without charge and ordered him to read two books on the profession of journalism and write summaries on them, according to media reports.

In a third case, on Thursday, police in the western city of Balıkesir raided the house of Cengiz Erdinç, a reporter for the independent news website Kısa Dalga, and took him into custody, according to news reports and his lawyer Vural Ergül, who spoke to CPJ.

Ergül told CPJ that he was not allowed to see his client, but Erdinç told him on the phone that he was being detained under the disinformation law because “he expressed his opinions on the MIT report.”

Ergül also said their conversation was interrupted at that point as the police took Erdinç’s phone as they were transferring him to Ankara in handcuffs.

Erdinç published several posts on X on the MIT report.

“Advocates of press freedom, both domestic and international, warned the Turkish authorities that their vague law criminalizing disinformation would stifle reporting in the country and they have been proven correct,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Turkish authorities should stop using this law against journalists; release columnist Tolga Şardan and reporter Cengiz Erdinç without delay and cancel the humiliating court order for editor Dinçer Gökçe, who is an experienced reporter and editor, to read books about journalism.”

Since the law was passed, CPJ has documented its use to detain and sentence journalists.

In a separate development on Thursday, Ankara prosecutors filed an investigation against three journalists from the leftist daily BirGün—publishing coordinator Uğur Koç, news editor Uğur Şahin and reporter İsmail Arı—for “spreading disinformation” under the 2022 law, alongside “insult and libel,” according to media reports. The investigation was in response to a complaint by a lawmaker’s wife who was the subject of two BirGün articles that alleged she was corrupt, those sources said.

On November 8, Turkey’s Constitutional Court is set to hear a case seeking to annul the disinformation law, which was brought last year by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), news reports said.

CPJ’s emails to the Istanbul and Ankara chief public prosecutors’ offices did not receive any replies.

Editor’s note: Cengiz Erdinç was released on November 3 in Ankara pending investigation.