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Turkey saw murder of 1 journalist, arrest of 39 others in 2022: report

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One Turkish journalist was killed and 65 others were the subject of physical attacks while 39 were sent to jail in Turkey in 2022, according to the findings of a newly released report.

The report, drafted by the Diyarbakır-based Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), provides statistics of rights violations suffered by journalists in Turkey in 2022, which already has a poor record on freedom of the press.

According to the report, the number of journalists behind bars in Turkey rose to 87 with the latest arrests last year.

The journalist who was killed in Turkey in 2022 was Güngör Arslan, editor of the local Ses Kocaeli news website, who was attacked by a gunman at his office in İzmit in February 2022 and succumbed to his injuries. Arslan was targeted after writing extensively about the alleged corruption in the İzmit Municipality.

The report showed that journalists were subjected to physical attacks by the police, mostly during protests and demonstrations when they wanted to take photos or film incidents.

Last year, prosecutors launched investigations into 68 journalists due to their professional activities, 65 of whom were indicted. Seventy-six stood trial and were given sentences that included life in prison and more than 181 years in total in addition to the imposition of damages amounting to TL 8.1 million ($430,000).

‘Disinformation law’

The “biggest blow” to freedom of the press in Turkey in 2022 was a “disinformation law” proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the report said.

The law, called a “censorship law” by its critics, went into effect in October after it was signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The AKP and MHP say the law aims to regulate online publications, protect the country and combat disinformation; however, it is feared to further cripple free speech in the country.

The law consists of 40 articles amending several laws, including the Internet Law, the Press Law, and the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). It makes “disseminating false information” a criminal offense, with prison sentences of between one and three years. If a person conceals their identity while spreading misinformation, those sentences can be increased by half, the law says. The law doesn’t specifically define false information.

It is criticized by Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups who say its vague reference to “false or misleading information” can be interpreted differently by courts to punish those critical of the government.

Last month, in a move that confirmed the fears of the law’s critics, Turkey saw the first arrest of a journalist under the disinformation law.

Sinan Aygül, editor-in-chief of Bitlis News and head of the Bitlis Journalists Association, was kept in pre-trial detention for more than a week for allegedly spreading “disinformation” regarding a child abuse case in the predominantly Kurdish province of Bitlis in eastern Turkey.

Kurdish journalists targeted

The report also said it was mostly Kurdish journalists or those working for pro-Kurdish media outlets who were arrested in 2022.

Turkish authorities arrested 16 journalists, including DFG co-chair Serdar Altan, Mezopotamya news agency (MA) Editor-in-Chief Aziz Oruç and JinNews News Director Safiye Alagaş, on June 16, after they had been detained in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on June 8, in a move that sparked outrage among opposition politicians, press members and rights activists.

The journalists, who are accused of membership in a terrorist organization, have not yet been officially charged in the six months that have elapsed since their detention.

Kurdish journalists in Turkey frequently face legal harassment, stand trial and are given jail sentences for covering issues related to Kurds and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 and listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since President Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

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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