Sinan Aygül
Sinan Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned website Bitlis News and chair of the Bitlis Journalists Society, was sentenced to two months and five days in prison after a court ruled on January 24, 2024, that he had ‘insulted’ two men who attacked him. (Photo courtesy of Sinan Aygül)

Turkish prosecutors charge journalist Sinan Aygül for threatening his attackers 

Istanbul, May 22, 2024 – Turkish authorities must drop charges against journalist Sinan Aygül alleging that he threatened the men who attacked him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday. 

In June 2023, Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned local news website Bitlis News and chair of the local trade group Bitlis Journalists Society, was hospitalized after he was attacked by Yücel Baysalı and Engin Kaplan, bodyguards of the then-mayor in the eastern city of Tatvan. The two were released from jail while the trial was ongoing and received suspended sentences, ultimately spending less than three months behind bars. Aygül, meanwhile, was sentenced to two months and five days in prison in January 2024 on charges of insulting Baysalı and Kaplan; he is appealing the sentence and has not been taken into custody.  

Now, the journalist faces additional charges related to the incident. On May 15, prosecutors filed suit against Aygül and his brother Ahmet Aygül in the 1st Tatvan Court of Penal Instance alleging that they threatened Baysalı and Kaplan twice on September 30, according to reports and court documents, which CPJ reviewed. The trial is set to begin September 18, 2024, Aygül told CPJ. If convicted of threatening the complainants, the pair could face two to five years in prison.  

“Turkish journalist Sinan Aygül was brutally assaulted by two men who spent little time behind bars before being released with delayed sentences, and now the journalist faces charges for insulting and threatening these same two men,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Turkish authorities should prioritize ending violence against journalists instead of heaping charges on the victim. It’s not too late to do the right thing.”

The indictment, prepared by the Tatvan Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, said that Aygül and his brother Ahmet Aygül allegedly threatened Baysalı and Kaplan in the presence of a security guard at a municipal building in Tatvan on September 30, 2023. Aygül told CPJ that he and his brother were at the building that day to obtain security camera footage that he believed would prove that the attackers did not act alone; he said when they were refused access to the footage they left without threatening anyone. 

The indictment also said that the same day, Ahmet Aygül allegedly sent threatening messages to Baysalı using the Instagram account “ahmt.aygl.” The indictment cited testimony of an unnamed person who allegedly saw the threatening messages. Aygül said that the charges did not provide proof of his brother’s connection with the account. 

CPJ reviewed a report from the Turkish police’s cybercrimes unit which could not determine the owner of the Instagram account, which had no posts and four followers. 

Aygül told CPJ that he believed that former mayor Mehmet Emin Geylani ordered the June 2023 attack in response to his coverage of alleged corruption in the municipality. Geylani, of the ruling Justice and Development Party, has denied any involvement with the attack.

CPJ was unable to locate contact information for the lawyers for Baysalı and Kaplan. 

CPJ emailed the Tatvan Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for comment but didn’t receive any reply.

On February 28, 2023, a court found Aygül guilty of violating Turkey’s disinformation law and sentenced him to 10 months in prison. He was the first journalist to be arrested and prosecuted under this law, and Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the verdict on May 10, 2024.