Journalist Engin Açar was briefly detained on Monday for reporting on damage suffered by the iconic Hagia Sophia, the Bianet news website reported.
A correspondent for the pro-opposition TELE1 TV station, Açar was interviewing head of the Art History Association Şerif Yaşar when police officers took him to a police station in Istanbul.
Açar was released after questioning. “I was not given a clear reason as to why I was detained, but the police asked questions about my tweets,” he said after being released.
It is common for journalists in Turkey, which has a poor record on freedom of the press, to face threats, physical attacks and legal harassment due to their work.
Turkey was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index, announced earlier this month.
Açar’s most recent posts concern damage to Hagia Sophia, including scratches on the walls and chips in the marble.
After his release Açar posted a video that showed graffiti on the external walls of the monument.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan restored the status of mosque to İstanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum with a presidential decree on July 13, 2020, following a top administrative court ruling.
Turkey’s Council of State announced it had annulled a 1934 government decree turning Hagia Sophia into a museum, ruling it was unlawful, paving the way for the building’s conversion back into a mosque despite international warnings against such a move.
Erdoğan said in a tweet that the Hagia Sophia would serve as a mosque “until the end of time.”
The move attracted criticism from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which expressed “grave concern” over the fate of Istanbul’s most famous monument.
Although Turkish authorities dismissed the comments as “biased and political,” recent images from the mosque show obvious damage. A marble font was broken, pieces from the Imperial Gate were stolen and the internal walls were scratched.
Concerned art historians said security needed to be increased at the mosque to prevent further damage to the iconic building.