ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – A court in Turkey on Tuesday sentenced American daily newspaper the Wall Street Journal's correspondent there, Ayla Albayrak, in absentia to two years and one month in prison over a report she penned in 2015.
WSJ said the court convicted Albayrak, a dual Finnish and Turkish citizen, of "engaging in terrorist propaganda" in support of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a report she had then wrote about the urban conflict between government forces and Kurdish rebels.
"The conviction of Ms. Albayrak, who is currently in New York, highlights the increasing targeting of journalists in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has gained attention for deteriorating media freedoms," said the paper in a story about its reporter's sentence.
Albayrak was planning to appeal the decision, said the US-based publication.
“Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did,” Albayrak told WSJ.
“This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report,” said WSJ 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,” he added.
Albayrak's August 19, 2015, story titled "Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast, " and an accompanying video reported the nature of a conflict between PKK-affiliated armed youth and Turkish forces in the town of Silopi in the Kurdish province of Sirnak.
She included in her piece interviews with Silopi's Co-mayor Seyfettin Aydemir, whom the Ankara government has since deposed, residents, a Turkish official, as well as a representative of a youth unit of the PKK.
WSJ said the interview with a person who described herself as the commander of a 10-person unit of PKK's Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) led to Albayrak's conviction.
A week after the publication of Albayrak's piece, the pro-government Islamist Yeni Akit newspaper targeted her for calling PKK affiliates "Kurdish militants" and not using the government line "terrorists."
"Wall Street Journal of the Jewish businessman Rupert Murdoch, famous for his enmity of Islam, went to Silopi. WSJ reporter Ayla Albayrak went to terrorists' house and did PKK propaganda," a paragraph read on Yeni Akit.
The judiciary used Turkish media translations of her story in documents filed against Albayrak, wrote WSJ.
An advisor to President Erdogan, Burhan Kuzu, claimed Albayrak had used the phrase "public heroes," in an early Wednesday tweet backing her sentencing.
Kuzu did not elaborate when and where she had said that as the word "hero" did not appear in Albayrak's WSJ piece.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the conviction of Albayrak and called on Turkish authorities to stop "their relentless crackdown on the press."
A government crackdown on the press has seen the closure of over 150 media outlets under a state of emergency since last year's botched coup attempt against Erdogan's rule, according to Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.
There are over 160 journalists in prisons across Turkey, according to the Turkish Journalists’ Association.
Editing by G.H. Renaud