Turkish prison authorities refuse jailed journalist access to Cumhuriyet daily, saying it supports terror

Visually impaired Turkish journalist Cüneyt Arat.

Authorities at Turkey’s Menemen R Type Prison in İzmir have rejected a request of visually impaired journalist Cüneyt Arat, who has been in jail since July 2017 due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement, to have access to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, citing its alleged support of terrorism and terrorist organisations.

According to a report by online news outlet TR724 on Tuesday, jailed journalist Arat has requested permission to read the Cumhuriyet daily in prison. However, his request was assessed by the prison administration and rejected with an unusual excuse.

The report said the prison administration assessed the May 17, 2018 edition of the Cumhuriyet daily and said: “It was seen that [the Cumhuriyet daily] consists of news articles that praise the terror organisation and terrorists, divide the society over their ethnic roots, use insulting phrases against state authorities and public servants and include baseless news articles about prisons.”

Arat had been sent to a prison far from his family and is confined to a cell without a window, according to messages sent from his Twitter account in early March. Arat’s family lives in Adana, but the journalist had been sent to a prison in İzmir’s Menemen district, which makes it difficult for family members to visit him.

He was initially jailed in Tarsus, a district of Mersin close to Adana.

The ward in which Arat is jailed has no windows and is extremely damp, according to messages sent from his Twitter account, which is managed by a friend. The journalist was also not allowed to write letters other than to family members and has not been given his radio or talking wristwatch.

Arat was sent to prison on July 10, 2017 after an appeals court upheld his sentence of eight years, 10 months and 15 days. According to Arat’s tweets on July 10, he decided to turn himself in after learning that a Gaziantep regional appeals court had upheld a jail sentence handed down by a lower court.

Arat was sentenced on Feb. 22, 2017 to six years, three months due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, which Turkish authorities accuse of masterminding a failed coup in the summer of 2016. He was also given one year, 10 months and 15 days for promoting a “terrorist” organization.

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 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 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 the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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