A Turkish court sentenced Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Ayla Albayrak to 2 years and 1 month in prison Tuesday, declaring her guilty of engaging in terrorist propaganda in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) through one of her WSJ articles.
According to a report by WSJ on Tuesday, the conviction of journalist Albayrak, who is currently in New York, highlights the increasing targeting of journalists in Turkey, where Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime has gained attention for deteriorating media freedoms.
“This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report,” said Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker. “The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded.”
It was reported that journalist Albayrak plans to appeal the decision. “Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did,” said Ayla Albayrak.
WSJ has written that Turkish legal actions against journalist Albayrak began after the publication on Aug. 19, 2015, on the Journal’s website of her article “Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast.” The story and an accompanying video reported on the state of a conflict in Silopi, Turkey, between Turkish security forces and the PKK. It included interviews with the local mayor and residents, a Turkish government official, as well as a representative of an organization Turkey says is the youth unit of the PKK.
In November of the same year, Albayrak, who has dual Finnish and Turkish citizenship, received a written order on her door to visit her local police station in İstanbul where she was notified she was under investigation for spreading terrorist propaganda.
At the police station, she gave a statement saying the article accurately reflected the state of the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government. In April 2016, a prosecutor in southeastern Turkey filed an indictment against journalist Albayrak alleging that she violated anti-terror laws.
William Lewis, Dow Jones’s chief executive officer and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, said that “This ruling against a professional and respected journalist is an affront to all who are committed to furthering a free and robust press. We call on those who share this commitment to make their voices heard.
“The notion that our reporter’s commendable and insightful work led to a criminal prosecution that has resulted in this wrongful conviction is intolerable,” Lewis said. “We have stood by Ms. Albayrak’s side for nearly two years as we have robustly pursued all available options to defend this baseless prosecution, and we will continue to stand with her as we seek to overturn this conviction.”
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 280 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 8, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.