Istanbul, September 13, 2022—Turkish authorities should immediately release journalist Sinan Aygül and allow him to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned local news website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, a local trade group, was arrested by police in the eastern city of Bitlis on Tuesday, September 13, on an arrest warrant issued for a fine of 1,500 Turkish liras (US$82) that the journalist had refused to pay, according to news reports and his lawyer Burhan Aksoy, who spoke to CPJ on the phone.
The fine was issued in 2015 as a result of Aygül being found guilty for “insulting” Vahit Kiler, a parliamentary deputy of the governing Justice and Development Party in Bitlis, according to those sources. Aygül was accused of insulting Kiler after calling him a “wolf politician” in a column that is no longer available online, those sources said. When used as an adjective, “kurt” (wolf) means “somebody who knows somewhere/something/their business well” or “someone smart; someone who cannot be cheated,” according to a Turkish language institution considered Turkey’s authority for its official language.
“Turkish authorities should immediately release journalist Sinan Aygül and stop interfering with his work by using judicial bureaucracy,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Aygül, like many of his colleagues in Turkey, is repeatedly being harassed by the judicial system over his reporting. The authorities in Bitlis should allow him and all journalists to work freely.”
CPJ documented a separate case involving the journalist last year, when he was found guilty of “violating the secrecy of an investigation” for reporting about a sexual assault. This 2021 conviction violated the terms of his parole for not paying the fine in the insult case, Aygül told CPJ in a July 2021 phone interview. Aygül also told CPJ that he will not pay the fine on principle.
CPJ emailed the chief prosecutor’s office in Bitlis and Kiler for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.