A Turkish court has thrown out the conviction of a former Wall Street Journal reporter, the newspaper said, annulling a verdict sentencing her to two years in prison in absentia on charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants, according to a report by Reuters.
The court ruling on Tuesday coincides with signs of Ankara seeking to improve ties with its Western allies that have been frayed in part by concerns over Turkey’s human rights record, particularly in a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016.
Ayla Albayrak, a reporter with dual Turkish and Finnish citizenship, was sentenced last year over a 2015 story about clashes between Turkish security forces and outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in southeastern Turkey.
“The black comedy part of my life called ‘a trial’ finally ended. It’s been exactly 3 years since the investigation started in Nov 2015 over a WSJ story,” Albayrak wrote on Twitter. “This decision is a relief for me and my family but not a real sign of greater Press Freedom in Turkey.”
The court dismissed the case on procedural grounds, citing the statute of limitations, and did not rule on the substance of the charges, The Wall Street Journal said. “We are elated that the appellate court has rightfully overturned the unjust conviction of Ayla Albayrak,” said WSJ Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray. “It is long overdue.”
The Journal has defended the article as a balanced and objective piece of journalism. Albayrak’s lawyers argued there was no evidence to support the charge.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said some journalists helped nurture terrorists through their writing and that the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in Turkey.
This month Turkey and the United States mutually lifted sanctions in a sign of a thaw in relations chilled by Ankara’s detention of an American Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.
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 239 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 31, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 170 were under arrest pending trial while only 69 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 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 a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.