The European Union has reacted to a verdict on Nov. 21 that sentenced former Zaman daily reporter Ayşenur Parıldak to seven years, six months in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization, underlining that the arrests of a large number of journalists have a serious impact on freedom of expression.
“The arrests of a large number of journalists and the selective and arbitrary application of anti-terror legislation have a grave impact on freedom of expression,” said an EU spokesperson in response to the ruling for Parıldak.
“Any alleged wrongdoing or crime should be subject to due process and the right of every individual to fair trial needs to be respected, based on the presumption of innocence,” added EU spokesperson, adding, “The EU has repeatedly stressed that Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to respect the highest democratic standards and practices, including in the area of freedom of expression and media.”
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir criticized the court ruling on Parıldak, calling for the release of all jailed journalists in Turkey.
“Decision to imprison journalist #AyşenurParıldak for over 7 years on unfounded charges is highly worrisome. I call on #Turkey to release not only her, but all journalists in prison. Journalism is not a crime,” tweeted Désir tweeted from the official account of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.
During a hearing at the Ankara 14th High Criminal Court on Tuesday, Parıldak, who has been in pretrial detention since August 2016, was first sentenced to nine years, but the court subsequently reduced her sentence to seven years, six months for good conduct.
Parıldak, a 27-year-old court reporter from the now-closed Zaman daily, denied the charges leveled against her, saying she has never used the ByLock smart phone 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 a failed coup last year.
“My only offense was to work for the Zaman newspaper. I wish I had not. All the leading figures from the newspaper went abroad tweeting about press freedom. I demand my acquittal and release,” she said. “I want to be acquitted. I am so exhausted.”
Parıldak was released by the court on May 2, 2017 but was later rearrested by the same court before being freed after a prosecutor objected to the initial ruling following reports criticizing her release in pro-government media outlets.
In October 2016 Parıldak wrote a letter to the Cumhuriyet daily from Silivri Prison, saying she had faced solitary confinement and sexual harassment in the prison. Her letter to Cumhuriyet led to a ban on letters being sent from that prison.
She was awarded the inaugural Shahnoush Courage Award by the Oslo-based Vigdis Freedom Foundation (VFF) in September of this year.