Jailed Turkish journalist Parıldak says she wants to destroy perception of her as a ‘criminal’

Journalist Ayşenur Parıldak.

Turkish journalist Ayşenur Parıldak, a former Zaman daily reporter who was given seven years, six months in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization last November, has said in a letter from prison that she is most concerned about people’s perception of her as a criminal and wants to destroy that perception, the Kronos news website reported on Friday.

Parıldak was given the jail sentence after she had been kept in pretrial detention since August 2016, shortly after a failed coup attempt in Turkey. The journalist, who was 27 years old when first arrested, was a court reporter for the Zaman daily based in Ankara.

Parıldak sent a letter to Sevinç Özarslan, another former Zaman reporter who now writes for Kronos, from Sincan Prison in Ankara, where she is incarcerated.

“I am still very afraid of being forgotten. I am afraid of people saying, ’She must have done something [wrong]; otherwise, she would not be held in prison for so long’… I am suffering in my prison cell. In the short term, I am not aiming to get out of here but to destroy this perception in people’s minds,” wrote the journalist.

Parıldak said there is only a portable WiFi device registered in her name that is cited as evidence against her and that the judiciary found her use of that device 41 times in one-and-a-half years to be sufficient evidence of terrorist organization membership.

“This was brought up six or seven months after my imprisonment. They [the judiciary] looked for evidence for six or seven months. I cannot cope with this evil…  I am exhausted. I just want a deep sleep that will heal me. A sleep from which I am not woken up with calls of ‘It’s time to be counted’.”

Parıldak is accused of using the ByLock smartphone application, believed by Turkish authorities to be a communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of being behind the failed coup.

The Zaman daily, for which Parıldak used to work, was affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Parıldak is also accused of being followed by an anonymous whistleblower on Twitter named Fuat Avni. The well-known user, who provided tips on corruption and unlawful government actions, was followed by over 2 million people and followed 180 people who are not being prosecuted on similar charges.

Parıldak, who started journalism as an intern at the now-closed-down liberal Taraf daily in 2011, also stands accused of this period of time since the prosecutor asserts that the Taraf daily worked for the interests of the Gülen movement, claimed by the government to be a terrorist organization. The daily was managed by Markar Esayan, currently a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who is free of any terrorism allegations, unlike Parıldak.

In her letter, the journalist says at the beginning of her imprisonment, she was given only one hour of access to fresh air, although it was later increased to four hours and then to eight.

Parıldak says she spends those eight hours with other inmates who are in solitary confinement like her and then spends the rest of the day alone in her six-square-meter prison cell.

Journalist Elise Lucet

The young journalist says she is offended by the many people she knows who do not write letters to express their support for her.

In her letter, Parıldak also wants Özarslan to put her in contact with famous French journalist Elise Lucet, who at the beginning of 2018 wrote a letter to the young journalist as part of a solidarity campaign.

Fourteen French journalists wrote letters to jailed journalists or journalists who were standing trial in Turkey while free on bail at the beginning of this year to express their support for them. Lucet wrote a letter to Parıldak.

“Ayşenur wanted me to find Lucet’s address. She wants to thank her colleague. I reached Lucet’s assistant and explained the situation, but no positive answer has come so far,” wrote Özarslan.

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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