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Journalist detained for ‘disseminating misleading information’ released on judicial probation

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Turkish journalist Serdar Akinan, who was detained in the western province of Çanakkale on Wednesday for “disseminating misleading information” online, has been released under judicial probation nearly 20 hours after his detention, Deutsche Welle Turkish edition reported.

Akinan was detained and taken to the police station in Ayvacık hours after he claimed that three helicopters carrying Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants from Libya and Syria landed near a hotel in Muğla where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was vacationing on the night of a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

Akinan said the helicopters carrying the ISIL militants arrived before the putschist soldiers who were allegedly planning to assassinate Erdoğan.

He said there were records of phone conversations and a police report about the ISIL militants in the area on that night but that the police officer who reported about the ISIL militants in helicopters was killed after he was run over by a vehicle two days later.

The detention of Akinan, who was taken to İstanbul for questioning, also came after an interview he conducted with a man named Muhammet Yakut, who has been making scandalous revelations on YouTube about Justice and Development Party (AKP) figures’ alleged links to dirty businesses, black money and mafia schemes as well as the shady background of the July 15 coup attempt.

Citing the journalist’s lawyer, Serkan Günel, Turkish media reports said he was released on judicial probation later the same day after giving statements to the police and the prosecutor.

“Thanks for your support! Down with tyranny, long live freedom!” Günel said in a tweet after announcing Akinan’s release.

According to Günel, Akinan was detained for “disseminating misleading information” online, which was criminalized as part of a “disinformation” law that was approved by parliament with the votes of the ruling AKP and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in October, although it was vehemently opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups.

The legislation, which cements the government’s already-firm grip on social media platforms and news websites while criminalizing the sharing of information and came only seven months before a general election, was described by critics from within and without Turkey as yet another attack on free speech in the country.

Criticism of the bill mainly focuses on Article 29, which amends the Turkish Penal Code by adding a provision (Article 217/A) that would subject persons found guilty of publicly disseminating “false or misleading information” to between one and three years in prison and would increase by half the penalty for offenders who hide their identity or act on behalf of an organization.

The lawyer said that Akinan was also accused of insulting, threatening and targeting public officials.

Akinan said in a video he released on Twitter early on Thursday that there is no doubt that he would continue engaging in his profession “in the same way” as Turkey needs free, independent journalists.

Following his detention, people on social media expressed support for Akinan and demanded his release using the hashtags #gazetecilereözgürlük (freedom for journalists) and #GazetecilikSucDegildir (Journalism is not a crime).

One of them was stage and film actor Şevket Çoruh, who said “Journalism isn’t a crime. Release Serdar Akinan,” in a video from the stage.

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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