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Finland summons Turkish ambassador over WSJ journalist’s prison sentence

The Finnish Foreign Ministry has summoned the Turkish ambassador in Helsinki to talks after a Turkish Court sentenced a Finnish-Turkish journalist to two years in prison in absentia. President Sauli Niinistö has also written to his counterpart, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the matter.

Toimittaja Ayla Albayrak.
Ayla Albayrak Image: Juha Heikanen / Yle

Finland’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador in Helsinki for a conversation about Finnish-Turkish journalist Ayla Albayrak, who was slapped with a two-year prison sentence by a court in Turkey on Wednesday.

Albayrak was convicted and sentenced in absentia for producing terrorist propaganda and supporting Kurdish separatists by a Turkish court after writing a 2015 story about the Turkish government's conflict with the Kurds.

The office of President Sauli Niinistö said that the proposed diplomatic talks were agreed by Niinistö and Foreign Minister Timo Soini.

Niinistö has also written to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the matter.

Albayrak, who is a Finnish-Turkish citizen and a writer for the US publication The Wall Street Journal, is currently in New York.

On Wednesday Foreign Minister Soini told the STT news agency that Turkey's stance on freedom of the press and speech is taking on disturbing features. Soini said that he has already aired his concerns to Turkish leaders, and plans to do so again.

According to Soini, while Finland intends to raise the issue of Albayrak’s prison sentence, officials will not be looking to strike it down.

"It would be good for us to proceed through the Turkish justice system. However our position is that there is nothing in Albayrak’s writings that would warrant such a sentence," he added.

Albayrak has said that she intends to appeal the ruling.

Flak over "weak" government response

Members of the media and opposition have called on the government to adopt a tougher stance on Turkey.  Helsingin Sanomat editor-in-chief and chair of the International Press Institute Kaius Niemi has called on Finland to take up the matter in bilateral government talks.

Social Democratic Party MP and former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja described Finland’s reaction to Albayrak’s sentencing as too weak.

"Turkey should be called upon to reverse the prison sentence handed down to Albayrak. Turkey is committed to international agreements that guarantee journalists’ free speech and the entire international community should bring pressure to bear on it," Tuomioja said.

Turkish-born Greens MP Ozan Yanar also called for action from Finnish government leaders.

"In the United States [they] have taken a much stronger position on Albayrak’s sentence. This is odd since we are talking about a sentence imposed on a Finnish citizen," Yanar noted.

He slammed a statement issued by the government as lame and expressed puzzlement that the case had not been taken up by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä nor President Sauli Niinistö.

Yanar observed that Albayrak is the first EU journalist to have received a prison sentence in Turkey. He said that it indicates that Turkish leadership is continuing to tighten its grip on the state.

Edit: This story was updated at 6.03pm to include statements by Foreign Minister Timo Soini and comments by Kaius Niemi, Erkki Tuomioja and Ozan Yanar.

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