A European foundation is calling for the release of a young Turkish journalist, jailed for seven-and-a-half years as a ‘terrorist’, in the latest of a series of detentions of reporters under president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reported by EUobserver on Tuesday.
The news outlet wrote that Ayşegül Parıldak was jailed last week after being found guilty of being a “member of an armed terrorist organisation.” The 27-year old reporter covered court affairs for the daily Zaman newspaper, and was arrested in August 2016 while taking a law exam. Prosecutors accused her of aiding the failed military putsch against Erdoğan in July 2016.
Now the Oslo-based Vigdis Freedom Foundation has awarded Parıldak its inaugural Shahnoush award, to be given every year to a female prisoner of conscience whose courage had not been internationally acknowledged.
Speaking to EUobserver’s Selçuk Gültaşlı from Oslo, founder and the chairwoman of the foundation, Anne Christine Kroepelien said “There was clearly no evidence that she is a terrorist. She is a law student who has a part-time job in a newspaper that was perfectly legal at the time and who reported from court.”
Kroepelien herself attended one of Parildak’s hearings, and said she was shocked by the jail sentence. Kroepelien said the Foundation would start a campaign for Parıldak’s release – and criticised the EU’s reaction so far.
“I think European reaction is inadequate. President Erdogan is continuing his crackdown on everybody who has an opinion that differs from his. This is clearly against all the liberal values that are dear to Europe.”
The only evidence submitted to the court against Parıldak was the fact that she was working for Zaman, plus her tweets and a smartphone messaging application called ByLock.
Turkish authorities seized Zaman in March 2016 and appointed pro-government trustees, four months before the coup and closed the newspaper right after the failed putsch.
Sources who followed the court case told EUobserver that judge ruled on the case solely on the existence of the ByLock app on her mobile. The judge later discarded her tweets as evidence. However, sources who want to remain anonymous said the evidence submitted to the court about ByLock was dubious and would be inadmissable in an international court.
In May 2017 Parıldak was briefly released, pending trial, in a unanimous decision by court judges. After an online campaign on social media against the judges, the decision was reversed in a matter of hours and she was again imprisoned.
Reacting to Parıldak’s sentence, an EU spokesperson told EUobserver that Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to respect the highest democratic standards and practices, including in the area of freedom of expression and media.
EUobserver has also written that on the same day Parıldak was sentenced, a veteran journalist from Cumhuriyet daily was sentenced to three years imprisonment for a single tweet. Oğuz Güven, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet’s website, was arrested in May for a tweet which he deleted after only 55 seconds, and held in jail for a month. He was then released, and has not yet been re-arrested to serve his three year sentence.
According to the report, Turkey, an accession candidate country to the EU, is now by far the biggest jailer of journalists on earth, ahead of China. An EU Commission delegation visited Ankara last month to discuss judicial affairs but could not get any promises on the release of journalists, or amending legislation to safeguard freedom of expression, EUobserver was told.
No harder line is expected against Turkey until at least April 2018, when a new progress report on Turkey is published. Rebecca Harms, a German Green MEP who attended Cumhuriyet’s hearings in Istanbul told Euobserver that she was very angry and sad to learn about Parıldak’s sentence. Harms said her only crime – like hundreds of her colleagues – was to work as a journalist.
Criticising the EU’s thus far muted reaction, Harms called on the Council of Europe and the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg to finally accept and rule on complaints it was receiving from Turkish journalists. “This sentence reveals again that the Turkish justice system has failed,” she said.
One report from the European Parliament on Turkey has already called for the suspension of current accession talks.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of November 21, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 26 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.