Turkey: Journalist arrested for covering alleged government database hack

Hilmi Hacaloğlu, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons via (CC BY-NC-ND)

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On April 19, the Turkish authorities arrested the independent journalist İbrahim Haskoloğlu accusing him of illegally obtaining and distributing personal information. This arrest comes after Haskoloğlu do a report [tr] on an alleged government database hack. The journalist declared [tr] having been contacted two months ago by the group of hackers claiming to be behind this hack. Local authorities deny reports of any leak [tr]while the “Minister of the Interior filed a complaint against İbrahim Haskoloğlu, who shared on Twitter identity cards which allegedly belong to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the chairman of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Hakan Fidan, ” reported bianetan online information platform.

Some two months ago when I was on air, I was contacted by a hacker group. They told me they had breached personal data from the e-government website and other government websites. They told me they were leaking that data. They also shared some of the government official data with me. This data includes new ID cards.

Two months ago, when I was on the air, I was contacted by a group of hackers. They told me that they hacked personal data from the e-government website and other government websites. They informed me that they were leaking the data. They also sent me official government data, including new ID cards.

Prior to his arrest, Haskoloğlu also shared on Twitter [tr] an exchange he had with authorities after publicly sharing the hacker group’s screenshots. ” They [les autorités] have declared that the personal data (personal ID) shared here [sur Twitter] were not from the government’s electronic database, but from ÖSYM [le Centre d’évaluation, de sélection et d’implantation est le corps responsable de l’organisation des examens d’entrée à l’université à l’échelle nationale],” said Ibrahim Haskoloğlu, adding [tr] that “it doesn’t matter where the data comes from, but it was hacked.”

In a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), CPJ program director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said that “the Turkish authorities should care more about the alleged hacking of government data than the journalists who were covering the report.”

According to’ExpressionInterrupted, a platform that documents and monitors legal processes against journalists, Haskoloğlu told the prosecutor’s office that he forwarded all the information given to him by the hacker group to relevant state institutions, including Mahir Ünal, Deputy Chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AK) currently in power, to Mustafa Şentop, spokesman of the parliament, and to the Deputy Chairman of the opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, Özgür Özel and to Özkoç gear. Ünal advised Ibrahim Haskoloğlu “to hand over the relevant information to the General Directorate of Security (EGM). Ibrahim Haskoloğlu also announced in his statement that he clearly asked the Communications Directorate “if he was taking any risks by reporting on the case,” a question to which “he received no negative feedback.”

Haskoloğlu’s lawyer, Emrah Karatay, confirmed that his client had been arrested simply for not informing the competent authorities – although, according to the journalist’s statement, he did. “As a journalist, he had to warn people and publish information. Today he got arrested. said Emrah Karatay.

On April 20, journalist Seyhan Avsar said there is chances are there was a hack[tr]. In a Twitter thread, Avsar wrote “that someone might indeed have access to all of these IDs right now, and yet the real problem in this case is that a journalist who tried to expose this hack is currently behind bars.”

In a news story published on the online news site Yetkinreport on April 14, it was said that there was indeed a data hack; except it wouldn’t be the government database that was allegedly hacked, but the personal information of some 30,000 to 40,000 government database users who were leaked online via phishing .

The arrest of journalists: a trend in Turkey

Ibrahim Haskoloğlu is not the first journalist to appear in court for illegally obtaining and concealing personal information. Journalist Yakup Önal was charged with the same offense in November 2021. The court found him acquitted.

In another case, six journalists were charged with the same offense for covering the leaked emails of former minister Berat Albayrak. These six journalists were also accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda”, of having participated in “the obstruction or destruction of a data processing system”, of “having committed crimes in the name of terrorist organizations to which they are not members”, and “to be members of terrorist organisations”. Citizen-journalist Metin Cihan faces a six-year prison sentence on the same charge, namely: having “published documents which indicate widespread nepotism in appointments to state posts via a foundation close to the government.” In 2019, six journalists were condemned to 40 months in prison for “violation of privacy” and for “illegally obtaining and disclosing personal data.”

However, what makes the Haskoloğlu case stand out is that he informed the authorities of the hack, and published the information afterwards. It is also the first time that a journalist has been accused of exposing the government database leak. In 2016, when the citizenship database in Turkey was pirated – exposing the personal information of almost 50 million citizens – none of the people who covered the leak have been arrested. Same thing in 2010, since none of the journalists having do a report [tr] on criminal networks selling the personal data of Turks was arrested.

According to [tr] a BBC Turkey report, “Experts agree that this time around there are no major data leaks from MERNIS (the central population administration system). However, they believe that this time the hackers may have taken control of a server or end-user accounts that have access to MERNIS.”

In Turkey, journalists are often silenced by Article 136 of the Turkish Penal Code. According to this article, “Anyone who unlawfully obtains, conceals or gives someone else’s personal data shall be sentenced to imprisonment for two to four years.” Of more :

Article 135 sets out that a person who records personal data unlawfully will be punished with a prison sentence of one to three years. Apart from this, under Article 135/2, it is stipulated that (i) the recording of personal data concerning political, philosophical or religious opinions, racial origins; (ii) illegally recording of personal data revealing moral tendencies, sex life, health conditions or trade union relationship is sentenced to a term of imprisonment. In the event that a person charged with the erasure of personal data does not implement his/her duty in spite of expiration dates prescribed by law, he/she will be imprisoned from one to two years (Article 138/1).

Article 135 specifies that anyone who records personal data illegally will be subject to a prison sentence of one to three years. Furthermore, article 135/2, stipulates that (i) the registration of personal data on political, philosophical and religious opinions; and (ii) illegal recording of personal data revealing moral tendencies, sex life, health status and trade union relationship shall be sentenced to imprisonment. In the event that a person convicted for erasing personal data does not perform his/her duty despite the expiration dates prescribed by law, he/she will be imprisoned for one to two years (Article 138/1 ).

Turkey’s track record of implementing broad domestic legislation to silence critics is many. The journalists are often hardest hit. Therefore, with World Press Freedom Day just days away, the environment for press freedom in Turkey is bleak. According to #FreeTurkeyJournalists platform (#LibérezLesJournalistesTrucs), which highlights the cases of detained and imprisoned journalists, 36 journalists are currently behind bars. Last year alone, authorities prosecuted 241 journalists, according to the platform tracker.

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Turkey: Journalist arrested for covering alleged government database hack

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