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Trial of journalist Fırat Bulut for spreading 'misleading information' proceeds

MLSA Justice Monitoring - The trial of journalist Fırat Bulut, accused of "publicly disseminating misleading information," was heard in court. The case, initially transferred from the Bingöl Chief Public Prosecutor's Office to Elbistan due to a jurisdictional decision, was sent back to Bingöl after a similar decision by the court.

Journalist Fırat Bulut faced charges for sharing news about a fire allegedly started by prisoners and detainees in Elbistan E Type Closed Prison during the earthquakes in the Pazarcık and Elbistan districts on February 6, 2023. The case, which could result in a prison sentence ranging from one to three years, was heard at the Elbistan 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Bulut, who sought asylum in Germany due to pressures faced in his journalistic activities, and his attorney did not attend the fourth hearing.

The defense statement sent by Bulut’s lawyer to the court was recorded. The statement emphasized that the prison authorities' letter to the court confirmed Fırat Bulut's news, indicating that the legal elements of the crime attributed to Bulut were not constituted. Consequently, the letter requested an acquittal for Bulut.

During the hearing, the prosecutor suggested that since the accused's registered address is in Bingöl, the competent court for the case should be the Bingöl Criminal Court of First Instance, requesting the transfer of the case due to jurisdictional reasons.

The court noted that Fırat Bulut, currently abroad, has no residence in Turkey, and his last place of residence in the country was Bingöl. Therefore, the court argued that the Bingöl Criminal Court of First Instance should preside over the case and decided to transfer the file to Bingöl due to lack of jurisdiction.

Background of case

The Bingöl Chief Public Prosecutor's Office initiated an investigation against journalist Fırat Bulut for "publicly disseminating misleading information" after he shared images on social media of a fire at the Elbistan Prison on February 8, 2023, following the February 6 earthquakes. The Bingöl Peace Criminal Judgeship issued an arrest warrant for Bulut following the prosecutor's request.

Bulut was detained at Ankara's Esenboğa Airport on March 10, 2023, upon returning from the earthquake-affected area in Malatya. After being held for two days and giving his statement, Bulut was released. The Bingöl Chief Public Prosecutor's Office issued a decision of lack of jurisdiction, transferring the case to Elbistan.

The indictment prepared by the Elbistan Chief Public Prosecutor's Office revealed that the investigation against Bulut was initiated under the "virtual patrol" program, which the Constitutional Court had annulled on constitutional grounds.

Bulut's February 8 post, which included an image and claimed smoke rising from the yards of Elbistan Prison and cells being set on fire, was cited as criminal evidence in the indictment. The post was alleged to constitute the crime of "publicly disseminating misleading information" as regulated under Article 217/A/1 of the Turkish Penal Code, seeking a prison sentence of one to three years for Bulut.

A letter from the Elbistan District Gendarmerie Command to the court stated that on the date of Bulut's post, a riot occurred in Elbistan E Type Closed Prison, with A and B blocks set on fire. The letter also mentioned that the Elbistan Chief Public Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Justice launched judicial and administrative investigations, respectively, into the incident.

(Reporting by Deniz Tekin)


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