Istanbul, June 20, 2023 — Turkish authorities should hold to account all those involved in the recent assault of local journalist Sinan Aygül, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On June 17, two men attacked Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, in the eastern city of Tatvan, according to multiple reports and videos, as well as the journalist, who posted about the attack on social media and spoke to CPJ by phone.
Aygül told CPJ that he sustained injuries to his head and shoulder, a shattered cheekbone that requires surgery, and a bruise under his right kneecap that has hindered his walking.
On Sunday, June 18, police arrested Yücel Baysal, who allegedly beat the journalist, and Engin Kaplan, who they said threatened bystanders not to interfere, and held them pending trial, according to daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. Baysal, a Tatvan municipal employee, and Kaplan, a police officer, are both assigned as bodyguards to Tatvan Mayor Mehmet Emin Geylani, from the ruling Justice and Development Party.
Aygül told CPJ that he believed Geylani had ordered the attack in response to his recent coverage of alleged corruption in the municipality. He said that Baysal told him, “You will die if you write about the mayor once more.” In a statement released shortly after the attack, Geylani denied any involvement.
“Turkish authorities should thoroughly and swiftly investigate the cowardly beating of journalist Sinan Aygül and hold everyone involved to account,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Authorities should ensure that the investigation is transparent and free from political influence. Journalists must be able to cover local government figures without fear of physical attack.”
Baysal is also the mayor’s nephew, while Kaplan is the son-in-law of the mayor’s sister, according to Cumhuriyet. Baysal was dismissed from his post following the attack, and Kaplan was suspended from the police force, those reports said.
Aygül said he believed the attack was in response to his tweets about alleged corruption involving a bid to purchase real estate owned by the municipality. Aygül frequently posts his reporting on Twitter, where he has about 44,000 followers. The bid was canceled after the attack, Aygül tweeted on Monday.
CPJ emailed the Bitlis chief prosecutor’s office and the Tatvan municipality for comment but didn’t receive any replies. CPJ was unable to immediately find contact information for the legal representatives of Baysal and Kaplan.