#Article19forAll: Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other nation. Albayrak was sentenced in absentia, 'an unprecedented verdict for a reporter of a foreign media outlet.'
Ayla Albayrak is a journalist who reported from Turkey for The Wall Street Journal from 2010–2017. She was charged and convicted in 2017 of engaging in terrorist propaganda for an article she published in August 2015:
"It's hard to describe the relief – and the disbelief – I felt upon hearing the news that the local court of appeals had ruled my prison verdict void. I packed my suitcase in Berlin and left for the airport to catch the next available flight to Istanbul, as if something could go still wrong if I didn't.
As I write this in Istanbul, it's been exactly three years since I was called to an interrogation at my local police station. A prosecutor had filed a complaint about my story and an accompanying video published in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in August 2015 on the escalating urban warfare in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. The decades-old conflict between the state and the Kurdish militants was always a sensitive subject in Turkey, and more so after the peace process between the parties failed.
Sentenced in absentia
Unfortunately, at the end of the legal process, and amidst rampant detentions of journalists in Turkey, I was sentenced to two years and one month in prison for 'terrorist propaganda' – a verdict that could not be postponed or reduced. It was an unprecedented verdict for a staff reporter of an accredited foreign media outlet in Turkey. By that time, I'd left Turkey with ease provided by my dual citizenship of Finland and Turkey.
I appealed the decision with the support of the WSJ. Compared to those who have had to endure imprisonment, I was lucky in many ways. Working for a prestigious American outlet, I had plenty of international support, the unfaltering support of the newspaper and my other home country, Finland, whose politicians and diplomats brought the case up numerous times. I'm forever thankful for those efforts but I hope my imprisoned Turkish colleagues will not be forgotten and that more will be done on their behalf.
'This is Turkey'
For me, the past three years were filled with ups and downs, being away from my home, relatives and friends in Turkey. A month before the prison verdict, my mother passed away from a terminal neurological illness. It was the worst possible time to deal with a court case, but I'm glad she knew very little about it and that her last days were peaceful. I finally settled in Berlin and imagined I'd stay in Germany for a long time. I’m still amazed at how things turned out.
"This is Turkey" is often how it is bluntly stated when events take an unexpected turn. Or perhaps it wasn't all that unexpected. I believe the court decision may have been used to help clear Turkey's image at a critical time. Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly labeled the country as the biggest prisoner of journalists in the world in recent years. Turkey is facing economic hardships and needs better relations with the West, all while the government is preparing for local elections.
As a journalist and a citizen, I hope these dark and unpredictable times in Turkey will end and we can finally embrace the freedoms we deserve. I don’t see a sign of that happening anytime soon, not even now that I'm "cleared."
Her contribution is part of Deutsche Welle's #Article19ForAll project. The goal is to collect voices and opinions to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and more specifically Article 19 which defined free expression and access to information as basic human rights.