Jailed journalist Ahmet Böken contracts COVID-19 in prison

Ali Ahmet Böken, 49, a veteran Turkish journalist and prominent broadcaster who has been in prison over alleged links to the Gülen movement since August 2016, has contracted COVID-19 according to his wife Nihan Böken.

Nihan Böken said she received a text message from the Ministry of Health informing that her husband’s test result was positive and asking him “not to leave home.” She later said she was able to talk to Ahmet Böken and his condition was good for now.

Ahmet Böken was convicted on terrorism charges due to his alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, a faith based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and sentenced to nine years nine months imprisonment. His conviction was based on such evidences as using ByLock messaging app, a charge denied by Böken, having an account at now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time, and sending his children to Gülen movement affiliated schools.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Böken is a successful journalist who worked as a correspondent, news presenter, editor and news director for Samanyolu Television, which was shut down by the Turkish government in the aftermath of the coup attempt. He later became the chief editor for Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT’s news channel “TRT Haber”. Under his leadership the channel was selected the most popular TV channel in Europe just two years after its establishment. Böken was also a juror for the Emmy Awards for the best news category.

He was sidelined and assigned to a minor post after corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013. He was arrested in August 2016, a month after the abortive putsch.

Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation, which excludes political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws, prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

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