The Turkish government’s paranoid and chilling campaign against journalists has just swept up a Wall Street Journal reporter.
And the President of the United States, busy escalating threats against a U.S. press that dares write unflattering news about him, has squandered the moral authority to challenge the abuse. If, that is, he cares to do so.
Ayla Albayrak, a joint Finnish and Turkish citizen, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison. Her crime: reporting on the conflict between the PKK, the Kurdish liberation party considered a terrorist organization, and the Turkish government.
For that bold work, Albayrak has essentially been branded an accomplice to terror.
Already, a mind-boggling 188 journalists fill Turkey’s jails, surpassing the number in any other nation. More than 150 media outlets have been shuttered via executive order under what remains a seemingly endless state of emergency.
The excuse of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is that the targeted reporters “aren’t journalists whatsoever. Most of these are terrorists” — which is to say, enablers of Kurdish separatists or of cleric Fethullah Gülen, thought by Erdogan to have orchestrated last year’s failed coup.
But trials have been shams. Erdogan wants to strike fear in hearts of critics, not root out actual threats to the government.
And Trump, who Tuesday read a negative story (“fake news,” he invariably calls it) and threatened in juvenile retaliation to yank the license of the broadcast network that ran it, is silent.
His weakness in the face of Erdogan’s provocations and repression must end.
Late last month, despite (or because of) his Turkish counterpart’s push to consolidate power and run roughshod over all opposition, Trump said Erdogan “has become a friend of mine,” adding, “I think now we’re as close as we’ve ever been.”
That was despite a brutal attack in May on peaceful demonstrators in Washington by Erdogan’s security detail.
Since then, Turkey has arrested U.S. consulate employees and accused them of links to Gülen.
The U.S. just announced it would suspend most visa services at its diplomatic facilities across Turkey. In retaliation, Turkey immediately echoed the ban with restrictions of its own.
Relations between the U.S. and a vital strategic partner are rapidly deteriorating, and the United States looks powerless to stop the downward spiral — or check what is, by any measure, a leader who has lost his way.