Local journalist attacked in eastern Turkey after covering alleged irregularities in AKP municipality

A local journalist in eastern Turkey was attacked by two people connected to the mayor of a Justice and Development Party (AKP)-run municipality, which he had recently claimed was involved in irregularities, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Bingöl Kent Haber news website.

Journalist Sinan Aygül, editor-in-chief of Bitlis News and head of the Bitlis Journalists Association, shared photos on Twitter on Saturday showing his face covered in blood following the attack. He claimed he was assaulted by individuals in the security detail for Mehmet Emin Geylani, the mayor of the Tatvan Municipality in Bitlis.

“After getting out of a municipal vehicle, the attackers hit me on the back of the head and started to curse, saying, ‘If you write about the mayor again, you’ll die,’” Aygül said.

The attack came after Aygül alleged that there were “serious irregularities and crimes” involved in some of the property sales of the AKP-run Tatvan Municipality.

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. Aygül had also reported on allegations of nepotism in Tatvan.

Court arrests police officer, municipal employee in connection with attack

A local court on Sunday arrested police officer Engin Kaplan and Yücel Baysali, a municipal employee, in connection with the incident on charges of “intentional injury,” according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

The arrests came as part of an investigation initiated by the Bitlis Governor’s Office into the suspects after footage of the incident, which was captured by nearby security camera, was released on social media.

The footage shows Aygül being assaulted by Baysali, while Kaplan prevents bystanders from intervening and keeps them at a distance by displaying his gun.

Aygül revealed that Kaplan was part of the security detail for the mayor, and the Bitlis Governor’s Office said the police officer, who engaged in unprofessional behavior, also had been suspended.

Despite these developments, the mayor denies allegations of being the mastermind behind the attack.

“I have no connection to the unfortunate incident that occurred today. The incident arose from a disagreement between individuals, which we do not condone,” the mayor said in a press statement on Saturday, wishing Aygül a speedy recovery.

NGOs in Bitlis condemn attack in joint statement

Civil society and professional organizations in Bitlis on Sunday condemned the assault on Aygün in a joint statement that said the incident represents an assault on the principles of a democratic state governed by the rule of law and the fundamental rights of society, such as the right to access information and freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

“It is not possible to accept … that one of the attackers was a police officer. … This attack can have no purpose other than silencing, intimidating and frightening the press that reports the truth,” the NGOs said.

They vowed to follow the incident until “the public conscience is satisfied.”

Among the participants were representatives from the Bitlis Journalists Association, the Ancient Tribes Federation, Bitlis the Sixth of February Volunteer Movement, the Bitlis Civilization Platform, the Free Thought and Educational Rights Society (Özgür-Der) and Bitlis Textile Industry and Businessmen’s Association (BİTSİAD) in addition to the village headmen, local shopkeepers and people of the region.

The Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) also released a message condemning the attack and said: “The duty of security forces is not to obstruct journalists but to ensure their safety while they do their job.”

According to a report by the Artı Gerçek news website on Sunday, Aygül was hospitalized a second time due to nausea and dizziness, although his general health condition is good.

Fractures on the journalist’s face reportedly couldn’t be treated immediately due to swelling and edema, and he is expected to be transferred to Van or Diyarbakır in the coming days for plastic surgery.

Aygül told Artı Gerçek that the attack wasn’t an attempt to intimidate him but “an attempt to cause harm with the intention of murder.”

Emphasizing that it is a tradition in Turkey to throw the triggermen in front of the public and hide those behind the scenes, Aygül said he wouldn’t allow this tradition to continue and that whoever was behind the attack will certainly be revealed.

Turkey, which is among the top jailers of journalists in the world, 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.

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 Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016.

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