The undersigned media freedom, freedom of expression, human rights and journalists’ organizations strongly condemn the arrest of seasoned journalist Tolga Şardan in Ankara. On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI), the undersigned groups demand that instead of punishing journalists for informing the public, Turkey’s judiciary should hold accountable those violating press freedom in the country.
On November 1, Tolga Şardan, a journalist for the independent T24 news website, was detained in connection with his October 31, T24 article titled “What is in the ‘judicial report’ submitted by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) to the Presidency?” which discusses a report on corruption in the justice system allegedly commissioned from Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) by the President’s office. The Center for Combating Disinformation under the Presidency’s Communications Directorate refuted the existence of the MİT report on November 1 in a post on the X platform.
Şardan’s news article was the latest in a series of investigative reports of hard-hitting allegations of corruption in Turkey’s justice system which fall squarely within the frame of legitimate public concern. All of these reports were blocked online by court orders.
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement stating that Şardan was under investigation on the charge of “publicly disseminating misleading information” under Article 217/A of Law No. 5237. 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.
After being detained, Şardan was brought to the Ankara courthouse where he testified before a prosecutor. “My article constitutes journalistic work carried out with the sole purpose of informing the public”, said Şardan, denying the allegations and demanded his immediate release. Şardan’s legal counsel added that the prosecutor should have started an investigation into the allegations raised in Şardan’s article instead of arresting his client.
Following his statement, the prosecutor transferred Şardan to the court on duty, with a request for his arrest. The court arrested Şardan and transferred the journalist to a prison in Ankara’s Sincan district. As the basis for its arrest decision, the court incorrectly cited Şardan’s alleged offense as one falling under the category of so-called “catalogue crimes” provided in Article 100/3 of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code, which includes a list of offenses that call for immediate arrest of the suspect. However, Article 217/A of Law No. 5237 does not fall under the scope of this article.
Since its passing, the Disinformation Law has been used at least 12 times to target journalists for their news reporting. On the day of the passing of the law, Hakan Çavuşoğlu, the governing party’s representative and former head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Investigative Committee told a visiting international press freedom delegation to Turkey that the law would not be used against journalists but had been passed only to deter people from sharing false information in times of upheaval and during emergency situations such as acute disasters. Earlier this year, journalist Sinan Aygül became the first journalist to be convicted under the Disinformation Law. Şardan’s arrest marks the 13th alert on Mapping Media Freedom concerning Disinformation Law cases reported in Turkey over the past year.
We therefore call on the Turkish authorities to immediately release Tolga Şardan from pretrial detention, and drop all charges against him. Authorities must end the systematic judicial harassment against him and other journalists, including the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. We reiterate our solidarity with all the journalists arbitrarily detained in Turkey. Journalism is not a crime and every minute a journalist spends behind bars for their legitimate reporting and journalistic work is a violation of freedom of expression and media freedom. This must stop.
International Press Institute (IPI)
Association of Journalists (GC)
Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Foreign Media Association (FMA)
Human Rights Watch
Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)
Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
This statement was coordinated by IPI as part of its #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign and members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) consortium, a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.