Imprisoned Turkish journalists Ayşenur Parıldak and Hanım Büşra Erdal are among the female political prisoners that US Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has demanded be immediately released due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a resolution introduced in September, the senator condemned the politically motivated imprisonment of female activists around the world and called on governments, including Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), to immediate release women who are political prisoners.
“Women activists across the world are being unjustly detained in order to silence their voices and end their activism. Women journalists are being unjustly detained for speaking truth to power and exposing corruption and abuses by governments and other authorities,” Menendez said.
Pointing out that “women across the world face enormous risks to advance human rights, including critical threats to their health, especially amid the COVID–19 pandemic,” Menendez added that the Senate had urged the US government to raise individual cases of women political prisoners and press for their immediate release.
“Turkey is the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, with 47 journalists imprisoned in 2019, including Aysenur Parildak and Hanim Busra Erdal, journalists for Zaman, which authorities claim has ties to Fethullah Gulen,” Menendez said.
Parıldak and Erdal were arrested in 2016 and 2018, respectively, on charges of “membership in an armed terrorist organization” because they worked for the now-closed Zaman daily. Erdal received six years, three months, while Parıldak is to serve seven years, six months.
Zaman was seized by government officials during a massive purge that followed an abortive putsch in Turkey in 2016 and targeted members of the Gulen movement. Although it strongly denies any involvement, Ankara accuses the faith-based movement of orchestrating the failed coup and designates it as a terrorist organization.
According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based international media rights group, Turkey is ranked 154th among 180 countries, with more than 70 journalists currently behind bars.