Turkish journalist Tolga Şardan was arrested on Wednesday over an article he wrote on corruption, based on a report by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT).
Şardan stands accused of spreading misinformation over his article on an MİT report about the state of the judiciary in the country.
In the article published on Tuesday, Şardan said the MİT had taken action after “allegations of abuse and rot in the judiciary spun out of control”, and prepared two reports that were presented to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Şardan was referred to court, where he testified that a petition by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor İsmail Uçar was what triggered his investigation and article.
“One of the fundamental rules of journalism is the follow-up, that is, efforts to inform the public of the new developments in a given incident in motion,” the journalist said. “Therefore, I looked into what Chief Prosecutor Uçar’s highly discussed allegations were or would be, and wrote about the information I obtained from the sidelines. Of course I must say, the sidelines have much more information than I wrote about.”
“The content of this article, in a way, awarded the state more prestige in the eyes of the members of the judiciary who are disturbed by what has been happening,” he continued.
According to Şardan’s lawyer, the article should not be subject to an investigation but be considered a public denunciation. However, the court ruled for the journalist to be sent to prison to await trial, fellow journalist Alican Uludağ announced.
Minutes after Uludağ’s announcement, the Centre to Combat Disinformation under the Presidential Communications Directorate said the report Şardan wrote about “does not exist”.
“A journalist was in fact arrested for doing his job,” Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) MP Meral Danış Beştaş said in a speech in parliament on Wednesday. “We do not know if writing about the MİT was banned, but every time it is mentioned somebody gets arrested.”
“Funnily enough, at a time when a thousand rumours abound about the judiciary, Tolga Şardan was arrested because he said the state was going to investigate these claims,” said Gökçer Tahincioğlu, another veteran journalist and Ankara representative for the T24 news website both journalists write for. “Where is the disinformation? Does the state not wish to investigate?”
Şardan’s article detailed allegations that drug dealers were moving their addresses to Istanbul’s Bakırköy district, so that any investigations on their crimes would fall under the jurisdiction of the Bakırköy Courthouse, one of the major ones in the megacity.
Several judges and prosecutors at the courthouse were involved in “monetary relations”, and Bakırköy was preferred for easier dismissals or releases on parole, Şardan wrote, referencing the MİT.
The MİT report was prepared upon request from President Erdoğan’s office, the journalist wrote. In the aftermath, Erdoğan met with his former advisor and current MİT chief İbrahim Kalın, as well as other regional directors of the intelligence service, he added.
In these meetings, MİT officials reportedly told the president that the judiciary and police would need reform steps to re-establish the rule of law.