Istanbul, December 15, 2022 – Turkish authorities should immediately release journalist Sinan Aygül and reform the country’s new anti-disinformation law to ensure that it is not used to harass and imprison members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On Wednesday, December 14, authorities in the eastern province of Bitlis arrested Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned local news website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, for allegedly spreading false information online, according to news reports and court documents reviewed by CPJ. He is being held pending trial, according to those sources.
On Tuesday, Aygül had tweeted allegations about a sexual assault case in Bitlis; on Wednesday morning he deleted the tweets and posted an apology saying that he had been mistaken. Aygül frequently posts reporting and news commentary on his Twitter account, where he has about 18,000 followers.
“Journalists may make mistakes like anyone else, but sharing and correcting an unconfirmed report should not result in a journalist facing years in prison,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Turkish authorities should release Sinan Aygül immediately and ensure that members of the press do not face criminal prosecution for their work.”
Following his tweets, which alleged that a police officer and a soldier were suspects in the sexual assault, and his apology, which said that he had been misinformed, Bitlis police raided the journalist’s house and took him into custody.
Authorities allege that tweets Aygül posted Tuesday violated an amendment added to the country’s penal code in October, which carry prison terms of one to three years for those convicted of publicly spreading false information that causes concern, fear, or panic, those court documents said.
The journalist pleaded not guilty, according to those documents. Aygül is the first journalist that CPJ has documented as being prosecuted under the new criminal amendment.
CPJ emailed the Bitlis chief public prosecutor’s office for comment, but received no reply.