Journalist Sinan Aygül should not serve prison time for doing his job, CPJ says

Turkish authorities should not imprison journalist Sinan Aygül, who was convicted on charges of “violating the secrecy of an investigation” by reporting on a sexual assault case, and the country’s Constitutional Court should accept his case, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement on Monday.

Aygül is the chief editor of local website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society. On July 12, 2019 Bitlis News published a report on a local sexual assault case based on security camera footage. One day later the story was picked up by national outlets, and authorities opened an investigation into Aygül for allegedly interfering with an ongoing investigation by reporting on the footage.

In December 2019 the Tatvan Second Criminal Court of First Instance convicted Aygül of violating the secrecy of an investigation and sentenced him to 10 months in prison, which the journalist appealed. The jail term would normally be converted to a fine, but Aygül was on probation for previous insult and terrorism propaganda convictions over his reporting, and the court maintained that he would have to serve his sentence.

“Turkish journalist Sinan Aygül should not spend one minute in prison simply for doing his job,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Aygül and all Turkish journalists have the right to cover newsworthy events. Authorities in Turkey must stop imprisoning reporters for their work.”

On April 29 a regional appeals court in Van upheld Aygül’s 2019 conviction. The court reduced his sentence from 10 to five months.

Aygül is awaiting a decision from another court to set the exact duration of his sentence — no more than five months — and the date on which he is expected to turn himself in, he said.

Speaking to CPJ, Aygül said he could not further appeal his sentence because Turkish law does not allow for continued appeals on jail terms of less than five years but said he had petitioned the Constitutional Court with a complaint that his constitutional rights were being violated. He said he would also pursue his case with the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 172 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

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