Jailed Turkish journalist Erdal says her biggest need is for justice and freedom

Hanım Büşra Erdal, one of the dozens of journalists who were arrested because they used to work for Turkish media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement, has said from jail that her biggest need is for justice and freedom.

Erdal used to work for the Zaman and Yeni Hayat dailies, both of which were closed down by the Turkish government due to their links to the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The journalist was detained at her family home in the western Turkish province of Manisa on July 26, 2016, and was subsequently arrested on July 29, 2016.

A high criminal court in İstanbul on March 8 concluded the trial of Erdal and dozens of other journalists and handed down a jail sentence of six years, three months to her on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

Erdal, who is incarcerated in İstanbul’s Bakırköy Prison, in July responded to a questionnaire prepared by the P24 Independent Journalism Platform during a visit by the P24 lawyers.

The questionnaire aims at revealing the circumstances and the problems faced by jailed journalists in prison and making a contribution to their solution.

In response to a final question in the questionnaire asking the journalist to talk about her needs in prison in addition to what she answered in the previous questions, Erdal said, “My biggest need is for justice and freedom.”

To a question asking whether she was subjected to any form of maltreatment either during detention or in jail, Erdal said she had to undergo a strip search when she was arrested.

Regarding problems in prison life, Erdal said meals are cooked with poor-quality oil, there is limited access to cleaning supplies and she can’t always easily see the prison doctor and get medication.

The journalist said a ban on sending and receiving letters for her was removed a year ago and that she is allowed to have five books and the newspapers she wants to read but said she was unable to get some newspapers at the beginning of her jail life.

To a question asking about whether she has even been visited by a member of the Turkish Parliament, Erdal said she was visited by Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Utku Çakırözer and Mahmut Tanal when she was first arrested and then by another CHP deputy, Atilla Sertel.

Zaman, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was taken over by the government in March 2016 and then closed down in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. Zaman angered the government with its critical stance and extensive coverage of a corruption scandal that erupted in late 2013. The Yeni Hayat daily was established by a group of former Zaman journalists after the newspaper’s takeover by the government.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of August 15, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 145 journalists who are living 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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