An Outrageous Prosecution
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is right when he complains that Turkey is threatened by terrorists who kill innocent citizens and want to bring down his government. But when Turkish authorities tar innocent journalists for abetting terrorism, they confirm to the world that Turkey’s President has turned his country into an authoritarian state.
On Tuesday a Turkish court falsely convicted Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak of propagandizing on behalf of an outlawed Kurdish terror group. The evidence for Ms. Albayrak’s “crime”: An Aug. 19, 2015, Wall Street Journal news story about the bitter fighting in a remote, Kurdish-majority, Turkish city called Silopi that borders Syria and Iraq. Turkish forces fought there with the outlawed PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Ms. Albayrak quoted some members of the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Group, which Turkish authorities say is affiliated with the PKK. But she also quoted government officials, local residents and the mayor—and explicitly identified the PKK as designated by both Ankara and Washington as a terrorist outfit. Nowhere in her balanced dispatch did she praise either the PKK or the youth group, and everything she did to report this story as fairly and objectively as possible was within the bounds of good journalism and Turkish law.
The indictment noted that some Turkish-language websites lifted parts of her story and an accompanying video for their own purposes. But they used selective quotes, and none are affiliated with the Journal and none were authorized by either the Journal or Ms. Albayrak.
There is no evidence Mr. Erdogan initiated these charges against our reporter. Yet they are surely a consequence of the repressive atmosphere he has created in Turkey, especially after a failed military coup in 2016. The Turkish president has taken advantage of the state of emergency to solidify his hold on power by cracking down on anyone his government doesn’t like.
This repression is now extending to the foreign media, and even beyond Turkey’s borders. In February Deniz Yücel, a reporter for Germany’s Die Welt, was arrested in Istanbul and remains detained without charges. Amnesty International notes Turkey now has more journalists in jail than any other country.
Ms. Albayrak, a dual Turkish and Finnish national, is now in New York. But that doesn’t mean the conviction isn’t damaging. The Erdogan government has already abused Interpol, the international police network, by issuing “red notices” to have journalists and critics arrested in other countries until they can be extradited. In this way a system meant to target criminals is turned on good journalists like Ms. Albayrak and makes it dangerous for them to travel and do their jobs.
When any local Turkish official can create an international incident by freelancing a political prosecution, it underscores Turkey’s descent under Mr. Erdogan and creates unnecessary rifts with other countries. Ms. Albayrak plans to appeal, which gives Ankara a path out of this injustice. But it requires a Turkish judiciary willing to assert itself by standing up for the rule of law and tossing this shameful and dishonest prosecution.
Appeared in the October 11, 2017, print edition.