Türkiye: Journalist Sinan Aygül must be acquitted

Türkiye: Journalist Sinan Aygül must be acquitted - Civic Space

Sinan Aygül

ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the 8th Chamber of Court of Cassation in Türkiye in the case of journalist Sinan Aygül, currently facing criminal charges for ‘disinformation’ in response to his journalistic and social media activity. Aygül is the first journalist in the country to be prosecuted and convicted under this overbroad legislation and now faces a 10-month prison sentence. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Court to acquit him of all charges. Additionally, in our expert opinion, we examine the compatibility of the provisions under which Aygül was charged with international and European standards on freedom of expression and urge the government to repeal them. 

On 13 December 2022, prominent journalist Sinan Aygül tweeted about a rape allegation implicating local police officers. Following a phone call from the local governor, Aygül shared another post stating that the governor had denied reports of sexual assault, and apologising for disseminating information about an alleged incident without confirming its veracity. 

The following day, Aygül was arrested by the police and charged with ‘publicly disseminating information misleading the public’ under Article 217/A-1 of the Turkish Penal Code. This article prohibits the dissemination of ‘false information about the country’s domestic and foreign security, public order and general health, with the sole aim of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the public and in a manner that is liable to disturb public peace’. On 28 February 2023, Aygül was found guilty and sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment. In the decision, the Court found that Aygül’s tweet constituted ‘disinformation’ and was capable of ‘disrupting public peace’. The Court also highlighted Aygül’s sizable online audience and the fact that ‘the allegations of sexual abuse… made it to the public debate in Türkiye’. The case is now pending at the higher court.

In the expert opinion to the Court of Cassation, ARTICLE 19 argues that as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights, Türkiye must ensure that any restrictions on the right freedom of expression are provided in law, pursue a legitimate aim, and be necessary in a democratic society. The prosecution of Aygül does not meet these requirements. In particular, we assess that

  • Article 217/A-1 is vague as it is not clear what is considered ‘false’ under these provisions. The notion of ‘creating anxiety, fear or panic among the public’ is highly subjective and potentially limitless. It is unclear how a criminal investigation can measure the level of ‘anxiety, fear or panic’ that reaches the level of severity punishable under the law.  
  • The prosecution of Aygül is a disproportionate restriction on his right to freedom of expression. Although the state can restrict freedom of expression on certain grounds, such as to protect public order or privacy, the threshold of such restrictions is high. Restrictions must be based on evidence of harm, rather than premised on speculation.

ARTICLE 19 also observes that the prosecution of Aygül occurred against the backdrop of continuous retaliation by the authorities for his critical and investigative reporting. To date, 137 criminal investigations have been launched against him in connection with his journalistic work. He also endured harassment, death threats, and a physical attack by the security guards of the mayor of Tatvan in June 2023. Since this case represented the very first conviction under ‘false information’ prohibitions, his 10-month prison sentence risks solidifying the prevailing atmosphere of self-censorship and enhancing the fear of retaliation for reporting alleged crimes and criticising authorities.

ARTICLE 19 submits that the prosecution of Aygül constitutes a violation of his freedom of expression. We urge the Court to quash the guilty verdict and fully acquit him. Additionally, we call on the government to repeal Article 217/A of the Penal Code, as it is incompatible with international free expression standards.

Read the full submission