ISTANBUL — A court in Turkey has sentenced a Wall Street Journal reporter to more than two years in prison on terrorism charges over an article, the newspaper said in a statement Tuesday, in a case that highlighted the Turkish government's escalating clampdown on press freedoms.
The reporter, Ayla Albayrak, was in New York at the time of the sentencing and planned to appeal the decision, the Journal said.
Scores of media workers are imprisoned in Turkey, which has earned the distinction of being the world's leading jailer of journalists. The latest verdict was unusual, however, in that it targeted a reporter for a U.S. newspaper. It came as the Trump administration and the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are locked in a bitter dispute over Turkey's recent arrest of a U.S. Consulate employee in Istanbul.
“The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded,” said Gerard Baker, editor in chief of the Journal, according to the statement. “This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report.”
Turkish officials have disputed that large numbers of journalists are in prison, arguing that many should not be considered members of the press because they are criminal suspects or spies in the employ of foreign countries. The authorities also have shown little tolerance for reporting on groups classified as terrorist entities by the state, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a subject of Albayrak’s 2015 article.
Many Turkish reporters have been swept up in a far-reaching campaign of arrests by Turkish authorities in the wake of a failed coup in July 2016. The journalists include 17 employees of Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s oldest and most prominent newspapers.
“Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did,” the Journal statement quoted Albayrak as saying. The ruling, she added, “shows yet again, that the international media is not immune to the ongoing press crackdown in Turkey.”
The sentence appeared certain to aggravate the ongoing dispute between Turkey and the United States. The feud burst into public view Sunday, when the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced that it was suspending the issuing of nonimmigrant visas at its missions in Turkey. The move was taken in response to Turkey’s arrest this month of the consulate employee, Metin Topuz, on espionage charges.
Turkey retaliated by quickly announcing an almost identical visa suspension. Erdogan, speaking in Belgrade, Serbia, weighed in on the dispute Tuesday, saying that "the offender in this problem is the United States of America itself," according to Turkey's semiofficial Anadolu news agency.