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Zaman journalist says subjected to violence, sexual harassment in prison

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Ayşenur Parıldak, a former reporter from the now-closed Zaman daily who is among dozens of journalists jailed after a failed military coup attempt in Turkey, said she has been subjected to physical violence and sexual harassment in prison.

Parıldak was arrested on Aug. 11 after spending eight days in detention. She was covering court stories for the Zaman daily and also a student at the law faculty of Ankara University. She was planning to graduate this summer and continue her career as a lawyer because she was fired by the new administration of the paper, which was appointed by the government.

Sending a letter to the Cumhuriyet daily from prison, Parıldak said: “I was subjected to violence and sexual abuse. I was interrogated day and night for eight days. They [police officers] were questioning me while they were under the influence of alcohol and were not avoiding saying this. Then the court process began and I am here. I stayed here in a ward for one month. Then  20 people were taken out of wards and placed in cells, which is solitary confinement. … I am afraid of being forgotten here.”

The journalist said during her interrogation, she was asked why she had an account at Bank Asya, which was recently shut down by the government due to its links with the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused of by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of masterminding the failed coup on July 15.

Parıldak said she had a bank account at Bank Asya because Zaman was working with Bank Asya and depositing its employees’ salaries there. Zaman, which was Turkey’s best-selling daily, was first taken over by the government in March and then closed down in July by a government decree due to its affiliation with the Gülen movement.

Parıldak also said she was asked why a government whistleblower known as Fuat Avni was following her on Twitter.

“They found a Starbucks receipt in my purse and asked me questions like whether I was relaying information to Fuat Avni by using Starbucks’ WiFi,” Parıldak said.

The journalist also talked about what other inmates arrested following the coup attempt are going through in prison. She said a woman judge cut her wrists in prison because she was overwhelmed by the harsh treatment she was receiving there, and that a 60-year-old woman identified only by her initials A.B. was forced to take out all of her clothes to be searched twice.

Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the AKP government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.

Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

More than 100,000 people have been purged from state bodies and 32,000 arrested since the coup attempt. Arrestees include journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics, governors and even a comedian.

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