Journalist gets prison sentence due to report on misused charity donations

Journalist Sinan Aygül

A Turkish court has handed down a six-month sentence to a journalist on conviction of trespassing due to a 2020 report about the use of meat donated to a charity at a hotel co-owned by a former ruling party lawmaker, Turkish Minute reported on Wednesday, citing the Bianet news website.

Sinan Aygül, head of the Bitlis Journalists Association and editor-in-chief of the Bitlis News website, claimed in a report published on the outlet’s website on Aug. 25, 2020 that meat donated to the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) for people in need was being used at the restaurant of a hotel owned by then-ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Bitlis lawmaker Cemal Taşar and his brother, Battal Taşar, chairman of Kızılay’s Tatvan district branch.

Aygül also posted a video shot in the restaurant kitchen in which tin containers bearing Kızılay’s logo were seen on the shelves.

An investigation was subsequently launched into the journalist after the Taşar brothers filed criminal complaints against him.

Three years after the filing of the criminal complaints, Aygül was indicted in January on charges of trespassing, with prosecutors seeking a prison sentence of up to one year for him.

Aygül was sentenced to six months in prison by a Bitlis court on Tuesday.

The journalist announced on the X social media platform that he was not surprised by the sentence but that he discovered some interesting details in his file.

Aygül said lawyer Mesut Sayılgan, the son-in-law of Cemal Taşar, was tasked by Kızılay to investigate his claims following the publication of his story, casting a shadow over the impartiality of the inspection due to the lawyer’s family connection to the hotel’s owner.

He said Sayılgan’s report was incorporated in the court file.

Battal Taşar was removed from his job at Kızılay following Aygül’s story.

Kızılay is a controversial organization that always comes to public attention with claims of misuse of donations. It sparked outrage when it was was found to have sold tents rather than donating them to people made homeless by two powerful earthquakes that hit the country’s south on Feb. 6.

The journalist said he entered the hotel restaurant without asking permission since it is open to the public and that as a journalist, he is not supposed to get permission to write a report.

Aygül was named one of the most successful journalists of 2020 by Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) in March 2022 due to his report about the misuse of donated Kızılay meat.

If a higher court upholds his conviction, Aygül have to spend six months in prison due to previous convictions, all because of his journalistic activities.

In June, he was attacked by two people connected to the mayor of a AKP-run municipality which he had claimed was involved in irregularities. He alleged he was assaulted by members of the security detail for Mehmet Emin Geylani, the mayor of the Tatvan Municipality in Bitlis. The mayor denied Aygül’s allegation.

Meanwhile, the two attackers, one of whom was a police officer, was released from pretrial detention at the second hearing of their trial, which led to widespread criticism.

Aygül said he no longer felt safe after his attackers were released from jail.

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

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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