Suspended sentence law contributing to self-censorship in Turkey

A law that allows Turkish citizens convicted of minor charges to stay out of jail is piling pressure on journalists and activists to censor themselves, Inside Turkey reported.

Article 231 of the Turkish criminal code allows people hit with a prison sentence of under two years to defer their sentences by five years and keep it off their criminal record if they do not face a fresh conviction.

But for writers and activists in the country that has been among the top jailers of journalists in the world, the prospect of a jail sentence looming over their heads is pushing many to self-censor, Inside Turkey said.

Many journalists and activists in Turkey, particularly those linked to the Kurdish political movement, have been charged in recent years for their links to outlawed organisations or for social media posts. Deferments, which can be applied by courts against the defendants’ wishes, have sometimes been used to avoid making judgements on sensitive or complex cases, leaving the defendants in a state of legal limbo, it said.

“Journalists face various accusations, not just crimes against the state but accusations such as defamation, insults or attacks on personal rights,” said Özcan Kılıç, a lawyer who often defends Kurdish journalists and social media users in freedom of speech cases. “The courts must apply either a sentence or an acquittal”.