Former anchorman for Turkish state television not released despite eligibility for parole

Hamza Günerigök, a former anchorman for the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) who was arrested on terrorism charges, said he has not been not granted release although he is eligible for parole.

In a letter published by Bold Medya, Günerigök said this was the second miscarriage of justice in his case. “I was arrested on bogus charges, and now, although I have completed [the required two-thirds of] my sentence, I am not allowed parole,” saying he considered himself not a convict but a “hostage.”

Günerigök was arrested on January 30, 2017, for alleged membership in the Gülen movement. He was summarily fired from his job with an executive decree and his press card was canceled.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. Gülen and the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

His conviction was based on some of the books seized by the police during a raid on his house and the testimony of a secret witness who said he “heard Günerigök was affiliated with a terrorist organization.” He was sentenced to six years, three months in prison.

According to the Turkish Penal Code, people convicted of membership in a terrorist organization are eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

Günerigök said he didn’t have a chance to touch his daughter, who was born after his arrest, the first time he saw her. “My daughter wanted to reach out to me, but there was a glass partition between us,” he said and added that because of the COVID-19 pandemic he has barely been able to see his family.

Günerigök is not the only journalist who is waiting for release despite eligibility for parole. Journalist Büşra Erdal was denied release from prison although she has been eligible for parole since March 30.

Erdal worked as a correspondent for the Zaman daily, which at one time had been the highest circulating newspaper in Turkey before it was first seized by the government on March 4, 2016 over its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement and later shut down. Erdal was sentenced to six years, three months in prison for alleged membership in the movement.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 172 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey is “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”

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