Turkish court sentences journalist to jail under ‘disinformation’ law


Ankara (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced a journalist to 10 months in prison for spreading disinformation, handing down the first jail term under a new law that critics say threatens free speech.

The court’s decision comes four months after parliament passed a “disinformation law” that President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party said would protect the public against the spread of false or misleading information.

Sinan Aygul, a journalist in eastern Turkey’s Bitlis province, was detained early in December after he wrote on Twitter that a 14-year-old girl had allegedly been sexually abused by men including police officers and soldiers.

He retracted the posts and apologised for writing them without confirming the story with authorities, but was later arrested. He was released from pre-trial arrest 10 days later.

In the first hearing of the case on Tuesday, a local court sentenced Aygul to 10 months in prison, ruling that he had disseminated misleading information that could lead to fear and panic among the public, according to a court document.

Aygul will remain at liberty pending an appeal against the sentence.

The law carries a jail sentence of up to three years for anyone who spreads false or misleading information. Erdogan’s AK Party and its nationalist ally MHP said it aimed to combat disinformation.

Turkish opposition parties and critics said the law could be abused by authorities to muzzle dissident voices.

Turkey is among the top jailers of journalists, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released in December. The number of journalists behind bars in Turkey rose from 18 in 2021 to 40 in 2022, and this number is the highest in the world after Iran, China and Myanmar, the CPJ said.

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