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US is concerned by WSJ Turkey reporter conviction, calls on Turkish Govt. to respect freedom of speech

Ilhan Tanir, Washington DC

A Turkish court has sentenced a journalist from the Wall Street Journal to two years and one month in prison in absentia on charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants, the newspaper said on Tuesday.

A spokesperson from US State Department, in an email responding the inquiry about the sentence, stated: “The United States is concerned by the conviction of journalist Ayla Albayrak.  Her conviction appears to be another example of efforts to discourage viewpoints critical of the Turkish government.”

Albayrak, who began working for the newspaper in 2010, was convicted over a piece from August 2015 in which she interviewed a self-described member of the organization’s youth group.

However, Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker disputed the basis of the charges.

“The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey,” he said, “and it succeeded.”

This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report,” the paper quoted its editor-in-chief Gerard Baker as saying.

US: seriously concerned about the widespread arrests in Turkey

US spokesperson continued in email, pointing to the broader issue within Turkey with regards to freedom of press, added: “More broadly, we remain seriously concerned about the widespread arrest and pre-trial detention in Turkey of individuals critical of the Turkish government.”

WSJ will appeal the conviction

Albayrak, who is currently in the United States, will appeal against the conviction, the Wall Street Journal said.

The court decision coincides with an escalating row between Turkey and the United States after the NATO allies mutually suspended visa services on Sunday, plunging already strained relations to a new low.

In a long email to comment on Albayrak’s conviction, US State Department spokesperson made a call on Turkey: “We urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms, consistent with the Turkish Constitution.

Freedom of expression, including for speech and the media—even speech which some find controversial or uncomfortable—strengthens democracy and needs to be protected.  More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times.”

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have complained of deteriorating human rights under President Tayyip Erdogan, and fear the country is sliding towards greater authoritarianism.

In a security crackdown since a July 2016 failed coup, authorities have jailed 50,000 people pending trial and have detained or dismissed from their jobs some 150,000.

Sen McCain: “Deeply disturbed” by conviction of WSJ reporter 

Senator McCain also issued a statement regarding Albayrak’s conviction and said, “The real reason for Ms. Albayrak’s conviction is that she had the courage and skill to objectively report about the diverse political viewpoints in Turkey and around the region.” McCain ended his statement by saying: “The United States should urge the Turkish government to reverse this baseless conviction and release all journalists wrongly imprisoned, and stand up for human rights in Turkey and around the world.”

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