Ayşenur Parıldak

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Ayşenur Parıldak, a court reporter for the shuttered Turkish daily Zaman, has been imprisoned since 2016. Her appeal of a 2017 conviction for being a member of a terrorist organization was denied.

News reports differed as to the date police detained the journalist. The pro-government news website En Son Haber reported that police detained Parıldak on August 6, 2016. The pro-opposition daily Cumhuriyet reported the date as August 3.

A court in Ankara on August 11, 2016, ordered Parıldak jailed pending trial, according to the state-run Anatolia News Agency (AA). In December 2016, prosecutors asked a court to indict Parıldak on the charge of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization."

An Ankara court on November 21, 2017, sentenced Parıldak to seven years and six months in prison for "being a member of an armed terrorist organization," the online newspaper Diken reported.

"My only crime is having worked at the Zaman newspaper. I wish I hadn’t," she said during the hearing.

In a letter that Parıldak sent to Cumhuriyet from prison, which the newspaper published on October 4, 2016, Parıldak said that police questioned her about her employment at Zaman and about her activity on Twitter. Parıldak said she had been unemployed since government-appointed trustees took control of Zaman. She added that police told her that an informant warned them that she planned to escape the country.

A March 2016 court order placed the Feza Media Group, which owned Zaman and several other media outlets, under the trusteeship of figures appointed by the government on the grounds that it was linked to followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and parallel state structure within Turkey that it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The government used emergency powers it assumed after that coup attempt to order Zaman closed by government decree, and CPJ research shows that police charged other Zaman journalists with terrorism-related offenses because of their work for the newspaper, which the government considered a mouthpiece for the Gülenist network.

In her letter to Cumhuriyet, Parıldak alleged that jailors beat and sexually harassed her and other female inmates. "I was questioned for eight days, day and night. [The police] were drunk as they were questioning me, and they were not afraid to say so openly," she wrote.

Parıldak said she had spent 20 days sharing a cell with other prisoners, before being moved to a smaller cell. "It means solitary confinement," she wrote. "I fear I will be forgotten here."

According to an October 6, 2016, En Son Haber report, the Justice Ministry denied the journalist’s claims. The ministry told En Son Haber that the journalist was in a cell with two other inmates, and that she had not been beaten or harassed.

A court on May 2, 2016, ordered Parıldak to be released during the trial but the order was overturned when prosecutors presented more evidence based on the journalist’s phone records, according to reports.

At a hearing on October 10, 2017, Parıldak said that one of the phone lines cited in the evidence was a business phone provided to her by Zaman. The court sent memos to the police, the telecommunications department, and the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office after the hearing, demanding more data on her mobile phone use and her alleged use of the Bylock app, according to news reports. Authorities claim that members of the Gülen network used the app in an attempt to communicate securely.

Parıldak denied that she had the Bylock app or that she wrote some of the tweets cited in her case, according to news reports.

İrem Danacıoğlu, the journalist’s lawyer, told CPJ in 2018 that Parıldak was at Ankara Sincan Women’s Prison. Danacıoğlu said that her client was able to interact with other prisoners between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. but that she sleeps in a solitary cell.

Danacıoğlu told CPJ in late 2019 that the Supreme Court of Appeals denied their appeal on December 27, 2018, meaning that Parıldak would have to serve the rest of her sentence. 

Turkish lawyers, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told CPJ in September 2020 that Danacıoğlu was among nearly 60 lawyers and law students taken into police custody across the country that month. Authorities launched a crackdown on members of the legal profession accused of having a connection to FETÖ, according to news reports

Danacıoğlu told CPJ in November 2021 via messaging app that Parıldak had become eligible for parole in mid-2021 but remained imprisoned. She said prison authorities had denied the journalist’s bail application, and that decision had been approved by a local court. 

Danacıoğlu said they had approached the Constitutional Court of Turkey about the bail denial, but added that Parıldak should be freed regardless in early 2022 as she would have fulfilled enough of her sentence to qualify for release.

Danacıoğlu said she is in touch with Parıldak’s family and said the journalist was in good health and did not have complaints about any mistreatment in prison. Mail, newspapers, and books sent to the prison are often delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Danacıoğlu added. 

CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2021 for comment, but did not receive any reply.