ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court has thrown out the conviction of a former Wall Street Journal reporter, the newspaper said, annulling a verdict sentencing her to two years in prison in absentia on charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants.
The court ruling on Tuesday coincides with signs of Ankara seeking to improve ties with its Western allies that have been frayed in part by concerns over Turkey’s human rights record, particularly in a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016.
Ayla Albayrak, a reporter with dual Turkish and Finnish citizenship, was sentenced last year over a 2015 story about clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in southeastern Turkey.
“The black comedy part of my life called ‘a trial’ finally ended. It’s been exactly 3 years since the investigation started in Nov 2015 over a WSJ story,” Albayrak wrote on Twitter.
“This decision is a relief for me and my family but not a real sign of greater Press Freedom in Turkey,” she added.
The court dismissed the case on procedural grounds, citing statute of limitations, and did not rule on the substance of the charges, the Wall Street Journal said.
“We are elated that the appellate court has rightfully overturned the unjust conviction of Ayla Albayrak,” said WSJ editor-in-chief Matt Murray. “It is long overdue.”
The Journal has defended the article as a balanced and objective piece of journalism. Ms. Albayrak’s lawyers argued there was no evidence to support the charge.
After the 2015 collapse of a ceasefire, intense conflict erupted between the Turkish military and the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and EU.
Turkey has recently sought to revitalise its EU relations after mutual recriminations related to the 2016 attempted coup.
Ankara has accused Europe of harbouring people allegedly linked to the putsch. The EU has voiced unease about tens of thousands of arrests and the closure of some 130 media outlets.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said some journalists helped nurture terrorists through their writing and that the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in Turkey, a NATO member that borders Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, which says 29 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey.
This month Turkey and the United States mutually lifted sanctions in a sign of a thaw in relations chilled by Ankara’s detention of an American Christian pastor.