Jailed journalist denied release from prison despite eligibility for parole

Jailed Turkish journalist Fahri Öztoprak, who was convicted of alleged membership in the Gülen movement, was denied release from prison although he has been eligible for parole since August, Bold Medya reported.

Öztoprak submitted a petition to the prison administration requesting his release, which was turned down. 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.

He was a photojournalist for the Zaman daily, which 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.

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. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Öztoprak was arrested on December 19, 2016, stood trial and was sentenced to six years, seven months in prison. His social media activities and the testimony of a secret witness were used as evidence against him in court.

The ByLock messaging app on his phone was also presented as evidence of his affiliation with the movement. ByLock is an encrypted messaging app used on smartphones and was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Turkish authorities claim ByLock was a communication tool exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement to ensure the privacy of their conversations. The app was permanently shut down in March 2016, before the movement was declared a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

Öztoprak is not the only journalist who is waiting for release 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.

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.

Journalist Büşra Erdal was also denied release from prison although she has been eligible for parole since March 30.

Erdal, who worked as a correspondent for the Zaman daily, 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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