A Wall Street Journal reporter has been convicted of producing “terrorist propaganda” in Turkey and sentenced to more than two years in prison, in a ruling that has drawn sharp criticism from press freedom advocates.
Ayla Albayrak, who was charged over an August 2015 article in the newspaper, was convicted in absentia, and was in in New York at the time the decision was made.
“We call on Turkish authorities not to contest Ayla Albayrak’s appeal and to drop all charges against her,” said Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement.
“Dozens of journalists are imprisoned for their work in Turkey and this conviction is a signal that conditions for the press are continuing to deteriorate. Rather than dispensing justice, Turkey’s judicial system has become an instrument of persecution.”
The court convicted Albayrak of violating the country’s anti-terror law and sentenced her to two years and one month in prison in connection with a Wall Street Journal article published in 2015.
The offending story chronicled the government’s efforts to quell unrest among the nation’s Kurdish separatists, “firing tear gas and live rounds in a bid to reassert control of several neighborhoods”.
“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,” Albayrak said in a statement. Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, said an appeal was already in the works.
Turkey jails more journalists than any country in the world, according to the CPJ and Amnesty International. Many of the more than 70 currently incarcerated were convicted on similar charges for covering separatist Kurds.
“This ruling against a professional and respected journalist is an affront to all who are committed to furthering a free and robust press,” said William Lewis, publisher of the Wall Street Journal. “We call on those who share this commitment to make their voices heard.
“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.”
Albayrak graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and has been reporting from Turkey since 2004, including with the Journal since 2010.
Since its failed coup against president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016, Turkey has become one of the world’s largest jailers of journalists, with 178 behind bars. The crackdown has also ensnared a number of foreign reporters: in February, Deniz Yücel, a reporter for the German newspaper Die Welt, was jailed on terrorism accusations and remains in custody.
The French journalists Loup Bureau and Mathias Depardon were each also detained on separate occasions while reporting in south-east Turkey and were subsequently released.
The conviction also comes as diplomatic relations rapidly deteriorate between the US and Turkey. On Tuesday, the US suspended nearly all types of visa services for Turks after a US consulate employee in Turkey was arrested on suspicion of having ties to the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdoğan’s government blames for the coup attempt.
Albayrak, who said that she said shouldn’t have been surprised by the ruling, but was, said: “It also shows, yet again, that the international media is not immune to the ongoing press crackdown in Turkey.”