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Journalist becomes first person in Turkey indicted under controversial media law

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A local journalist in eastern Turkey has become the first person to face criminal charges under Turkey’s controversial new media law for reporting on an alleged child abuse case in eastern Turkey, the Artı Gerçek news website reported.

The one-page indictment seeks a jail sentence of up to three years for journalist Sinan Aygül, who was held in pretrial detention for eight days last month for allegedly spreading “disinformation” regarding a child abuse case in the predominantly Kurdish province of Bitlis.

Aygül, editor-in-chief of Bitlis News and the head of the Bitlis Journalists Association, was detained after he wrote on Twitter that a 14-year-old girl had allegedly been sexually abused by a police officer and a soldier. He later corrected the story and explained in a series of tweets that the local governor had told him that the identity of the suspects had not yet been determined after he had tweeted about the alleged incident.

The journalist apologized for publishing the story without confirming it with authorities, yet he was arrested under the controversial “disinformation” law, which criminalizes the dissemination of “false or misleading information” and stipulates prison sentences of between one and three years.

The prosecutor has demanded the maximum sentence on the grounds that he, as the president of the local journalism association, wields significant influence over public opinion.

Aygül’s lawyer, Diyar Orak, said his client had no intention of deliberately spreading misinformation and that he was only bringing the issue to public attention so that it could be further investigated.

Aygül said he would not offer a defense in court in order not to give legitimacy to the “anti-democratic” law, which he said is “an enemy of freedom of expression.”

The law, which was passed by parliament and signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in October, has attracted widespread criticism from rights groups and the opposition on accusations it will further cripple free speech in Turkey.

Aygül said he would go to court to attend the hearings but would not present a defense and would keep quiet.

“I will just remain silent. If they want us to be silent, I will do that in court,” said Aygül.

The first hearing will be held at a Bitlis court on Feb. 28.

Turkey, which is one of the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index, released in May.

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