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Finnish foreign minister, press criticise Turkey after WSJ journalist's jail sentence

News that Turkey sentenced a dual Finnish-Turkish national - who's a writer at the Wall Street Journal - to more than two years in prison in absentia has shocked many in Finland.

Ayla Albayrak
Finnish-Turkish citizen Ayla Albayrak Image: Yle

Foreign Minister Timo Soini told the STT news agency on Wednesday that Turkey's stance on freedom of the press and speech is taking on disturbing features. The court decision to impose a jail sentence of just over two years for the Finnish-Turkish journalist Ayla Albayrak, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, is a consequence of this development, Soini said.

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

The Finnish Foreign Ministry has made contact with Albayrak, who is currently in New York. The ministry has also contacted Turkish authorities.

Soini says he has already spoken of his concerns to Turkish leaders, and plans to speak about it again.

"We'll see when the next opportunity comes around. The last time I brought up human rights issues was in New York [in late September]. I told [Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt] Çavuşoğlu that Turkey must implement the rule of law," he said. 

"Even if the situation is not satisfactory, I don't think Turkey wants to get rid of all its journalists, that wouldn't be sensible. The situation is problematic when it comes to journalism, and we must say that to them – and we have," Soini continued.

However, Finnish opposition MP Ozan Yanar said that Soini fell short in his comments via Twitter, writing that "it is not enough to say that the Turkish situation is problematic when a Finnish reporter gets a prison term for journalism." Yanar was born in Turkey and holds dual citizenship.

Int'l pressure is the only way to affect change

The Finnish chair of the International Press Institute, Kaius Niemi, says that journalists in Turkey are very hard-pressed right now and that the situation in Turkey is exceptional.

"There are more journalists in prison right now in Turkey than anywhere else in the world. The state of emergency that was called after the failed coup in particular has enabled Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to grab onto a fabricated reason to use the legal system to crack down on the opposition and people who are critical of the government," says Niemi, who is also chief editor of Finland's largest daily, Helsingin Sanomat.

He doesn't see any indication that things in Turkey will change for the better, either. He says it is up to the international community, including the governments of Finland and other EU states, to put pressure on Turkey before the situation can be even somewhat rectified.

"Turkey seeks to prevent journalists working for foreign media services from working in the Turkish region by prosecuting them and sentencing them in absentia," he notes.

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