Turkish journalist Sinan Aygül was recently sentenced to five months in jail over his reporting. (Photo: Sinan Aygül)

Turkish journalist Sinan Aygül sentenced to jail over sexual assault reporting

Istanbul, June 14, 2021 – Turkish authorities should not imprison journalist Sinan Aygül, and the country’s Constitutional Court should accept his case, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On April 29, the First Penal Chamber of the Van Regional Court of Justice, an appeals court in eastern Turkey, upheld Aygül’s 2019 conviction on charges of “violating the secrecy of an investigation” by reporting on a sexual assault case, according to court documents, which CPJ reviewed, and news reports.

The court reduced his prison term from 10 months to five months, according to those documents. Aygül, the chief editor of the local news website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, a local trade group, is awaiting a decision from another court to set the exact duration of his sentence—no more than five months—and the date when he is expected to turn himself in, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a report by Bitlis News.

Aygül said he that 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 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.

“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 July 12, 2019, Bitlis News published a report on a local sexual assault case based on security camera footage, according to those news reports and Aygül. 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 that footage, he said.

On July 16, a local court ordered that article to be taken down, and Aygül complied, he told CPJ.

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, he said.

The jail term would normally be converted to a monetary fine, but Aygül was on probation for previous insult and terrorism propaganda convictions over his reporting, which themselves had been punished with fines, and the court maintained that he would have to serve his prison term, according to the journalist and news reports.

CPJ emailed the Bitlis chief prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.