A court in Turkey has sentenced Ayla Albayrak to two years and one month in prison, for spreading ‘terrorist propaganda’ supporting a banned Kurdish separatist group, in an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
Albayrak, who holds dual Finnish and Turkish nationality, wrote a story in August 2015 called ‘Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast‘ about the ongoing conflict between Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK. The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the EU.
A few months later, Albayrak was summoned to a police station, where she was told that authorities were investigating her over the article.
“This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report” WSJ Editor in Chief Gerard Baker wrote in the paper.
“The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded” he said.
Albayrak, who is currently in New York, says she will appeal the ruling, and said that her case “shows that the international media are not immune to the on-going attacks on the media in Turkey”.
Foreign Minister & MP Response
The Foreign Ministry in Helsinki says they have been in contact with Ayla Albayrak and also Turkish authorities, according to Communications Director Harri Kilpi.
“At present, the matter is being handled in Ankara, where the Embassy is in contact with local authorities and [Albayrak] says Kilpi.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini says that Albayrak’s sentence is one of the consequences of the situation for journalists, as freedom of expression is eroded.
According to Soini, Turkey’s leaders have been told how problematic their treatment of journalists is, and they should be told again.
Writing on Facebook, Green Party MP Ozan Yanar, who was born in Turkey and moved to Finland age 14, described news of Albayrak’s sentence as “shocking”.
“The intention is to intimidate and exert pressure on journalists who are writing about Turkey’s problems” he says.
“Finland has been very weak in its positions on Turkey’s deteriorating human rights situation and the decline in the rule of law” adds Helsinki MP Yanar.
Media in Turkey
Turkish authorities have tightened their hold on the media after a coup attempt last year.
Journalists have been imprisoned, and media outlets closed.
In particular, journalists suspected of having links with the Fethullah Gülen group, who the Turkish government says was behind the 2016 coup attempt, and journalists reporting on Kurdish issues are at risk.
According to political opposition in Turkey, the coup attempt has been used as an excuse to crack down on anyone who opposes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Human rights groups say that freedom of the press in Turkey is in crisis. Amnesty International reports that there are more journalists currently imprisoned in Turkey than anywhere else.
The majority of imprisoned journalists are Turkish, but other nationalities have also been arrested and detained.
Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for Germany Die Welt, was arrested in February and is still being held in detention on remand without charges. He is suspected of breaking the terrorist law. Yücel has denied accusations.
The case has strained relations between Germany and Turkey, and the arrest has been condemned by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others.