A Wall Street Journal reporter has been sentenced by a Turkish court to 25 months in prison for publishing an article deemed to be terrorist propaganda by the increasingly authoritarian Turkish government.
The sentence against Ayla Albayrak, a Journal reporter previously based in Istanbul, was in response to an Aug. 19, 2015, article Albayrak wrote entitled, “Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast.”
The piece focused on the conflict between Turkish security forces and members of PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, in Silopi, Turkey. The Turkish government, the U.S. and the European Union consider PKK to be a terrorist group.
For the article, Albayrak interviewed a person affiliated with a youth group that the Turkish government says is associated with PKK. Albayrak has said that she conducted the interview to provide an outside perspective to her piece, but Turkish authorities have alleged that it showed sympathy for PKK.
Months after Albayrak’s article was published, she was summoned to a police station in Istanbul, where she was being investigated for spreading terrorist propaganda. She was indicted in April 2016.
Albayrak, who is currently in New York, plans to appeal her conviction.
“Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did,” Albayrak told her newspaper in a statement.
“This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report,” Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker said in a statement. “The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded.”
The conviction highlights the Turkish government’s anti-democratic turn in recent years against the press and dissent within Turkey.
Operating under the direction of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish authorities have imprisoned hundreds of journalists, putting the Nato member 155th on press freedom rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Erdogan’s regime has also shut down and seized numerous news outlets critical of the Turkish government and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
In addition to PKK, Erdogan has targeted supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who the Turkish government claims was behind last July’s failed coup attempt.
Tens of thousands of private citizens have been jailed or fired from their jobs based on even the faintest speculation of having ties to Gulen’s network of supporters. Turkish authorities have also held an American pastor named Andrew Bruson in prison since last October based on baseless charges that he was affiliated with the Gulen movement and Kurdish separatists.