A TURKISH court has sentenced a Wall Street Journal reporter to prison on trumped-up charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants.
Ayla Albayrak, a reporter with dual Turkish and Finnish citizenship, was sentenced to two years and one month’s jail in absentia.
The ‘unfounded’ charges stem from a 2015 story about ongoing clashes between Turkish security forces and militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey.
They come as Turkish strongman Tayyip Erdogan continues his brutal crackdown on free speech which has made the country the world’s leading jailer of journalists.
Campaign groups have long complained of deteriorating human rights under Erdogan, who seeks to quell dissent and crush Kurdish attempts for independence.
In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article online, editor-in-chief Gerard Baker said: “This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report.
“The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded.
“The Wall Street Journal is an independent news organisation with a lengthy and distinguished history of fair and accurate reporting around the world.
“Ayla Albayrak embodies that rich tradition, spending years as an intrepid journalist producing insightful, fair and impartial coverage from Turkey.
“We will work tirelessly to overturn this preposterous conviction.”
Albayrak, who is currently in the US, will appeal against the conviction.
She said: “Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did.
“The decision shows the extent to which the authorities did not want the operations that were going on in Turkey’s southeast to be reported on.
“It also shows yet again, that the international media is not immune to the ongoing press crackdown in Turkey.”
In a security crackdown since a July 2016 failed coup, Turkish authorities have jailed 50,000 people pending trial and have detained or dismissed from their jobs some 150,000.
As part of the purge some 150 media outlets have been shut down and around 160 journalists are in jail, according to the Turkish Journalists’ Association.
In a statement, William Lewis, Dow Jones’s Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of The Wall Street Journal, said: “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.
“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.”
Dow Jones noted the original article – “Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast” – was distorted and selectively quoted by websites unaffiliated with the WSJ, sparking the original Turkish probe.
Officials not only blocked those websites, but then unfairly held Albayrak responsible.