Turkish journalist Sinan Aygül (center) speaks to reporters next to his lawyer Emine Özhasar (left) and Özgür Öğret, CPJ's Turkey representative, after he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for spreading disinformation on February 28, 2023. (Photo Credit: İdris Yılmaz)

Turkish journalist Sinan Aygül sentenced to 10 months in prison under new disinformation law

Tatvan, Turkey, February 28, 2023 – A court in Turkey on Tuesday, February 28, sentenced journalist Sinan Aygül to 10 months in prison for allegedly spreading disinformation, according to news reports. Aygül is the first journalist prosecuted under Turkey’s new disinformation amendment, passed in October 2022, that CPJ has documented. He remains free pending an appeal. 

“CPJ, alongside both domestic and international rights groups, warned Turkish authorities that the country’s new disinformation law would hinder freedom of the press. Today we saw that prediction come true as Sinan Aygül became the first journalist tried and convicted under this arbitrary charge,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative, who attended the trial. “Authorities should not fight Aygül’s appeal and must reform this law to ensure journalists can do their jobs without fearing arrest or imprisonment.” 

Authorities arrested Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, in December 2022 after he tweeted allegations about a sexual abuse case involving a government employee, before deleting them and apologizing for being mistaken.

The new disinformation law carries a prison term of up to three years for those convicted of publicly spreading false information that causes concern, fear, or panic. Turkey’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, applied to annul the amendment with the Constitutional Court of Turkey, where it remains pending, according to news reports.

CPJ’s email to the chief prosecutor of Bitlis province did not immediately receive a response.