CPJ calls on Turkish gov’t to drop charges against journalist

Journalist Sinan Aygül

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Turkish authorities on Wednesday to drop charges against journalist Sinan Aygül, who is accused of threatening the men previously convicted of assaulting him.

In June 2023 Aygül, the editor-in-chief of Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, was hospitalized after being assaulted by Yücel Baysalı and Engin Kaplan, bodyguards of the then-mayor of Tatvan. The assailants were released from jail while the trial was ongoing and received suspended sentences, ultimately spending less than three months behind bars. Aygül, on the other hand, was sentenced in January 2024 to over two months in prison on charges of insulting the attackers, a decision he is currently appealing.

Further complicating matters, on May 15 new charges were levied against Aygül and his brother, Ahmet Aygül, by prosecutors at the Tatvan Court of First Instance. They are accused of threatening their previous assailants on two occasions. If convicted, they could face two to five years in prison. The trial is scheduled to commence on September 18, 2024.

“Turkish authorities should prioritize ending violence against journalists instead of heaping charges on the victim. It’s not too late to do the right thing,” Özgür Öğret, the CPJ’s Turkey representative, said.

According to the indictment from the Tatvan Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the alleged threats took place in a municipal building in Tatvan, where the Aygül brothers sought security camera footage they believed would support their case. Sinan Aygül contends they made no threats during this visit.

Additionally, the indictment claims Ahmet Aygül sent threatening messages via an Instagram account, but the authenticity of his connection to the account remains unproven, with the Turkish police’s cybercrimes unit unable to confirm ownership.

Sinan Aygül believes the attack was orchestrated by the former mayor in retaliation for his investigative reporting on alleged municipal corruption. The former mayor, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has denied any involvement.

In February 2023 Aygül was also found guilty under Turkey’s controversial disinformation law and sentenced to 10 months in prison. This conviction was later overturned by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in May 2024.

Aygül has been constantly targeted due to his coverage of corruption allegations involving members of the AKP government. He was previously arrested following a complaint by Vahit Kiler, a former AKP lawmaker from Bitlis, but was later released. The journalist had also reported on allegations of nepotism in Tatvan.

Turkey, which is among the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 158th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2024 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, closing down media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016.

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