Germany calls on Turkish ambassador over Die Welt journalist’s arrest
BERLIN / ANKARAGermany called on Turkey’s ambassador to Berlin on Feb. 28 to protest the arrest of a correspondent for a German newspaper, further fueling tensions between the two NATO allies.
Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish dual national with Die Welt, faces up to 10.5 years in prison after being arrested on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting public violence, his lawyer Veysel Ok told Reuters on Feb. 28.
The ministry initially said on Twitter that State Secretary Walter Lindner had “summoned” the ambassador of Turkey, before clarifying that the envoy was “asked in.”
“It was not a formal summons, the Turkish envoy was asked in for talks,” it said in a second tweet.
“German-Turkey relations are facing one of their greatest challenges of the modern era,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters in Berlin.
Gabriel said freedom of speech was protected by the constitutions of both countries and nobody who claimed to be democratic or to respect human rights could “misuse” its judicial system to go after journalists.
Yücel was first detained on Feb. 14 and an Istanbul court on Feb. 27 ordered him to be jailed pending trial.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, meanwhile, denied claims that the decision was “political.”
“An independent Turkish court made the decision regarding that person [Yücel]. They have the right to object and there are applications to object. The decision is not political,” Bozdağ told journalists in a press meeting with Secretary General of Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland in France on March 1.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Feb. 27 called the decision “disappointing” and “disproportionate,” and said Berlin would insist on “fair and legal treatment” for Yücel.
German-Turkish ties have been strained over arrests after the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt, widely believed to have been masterminded by the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and Germany’s claims on possible spying by Turkish clerics.
At the same time, Berlin is counting on Turkey to uphold a deal with the European Union to prevent refugees from crossing to Greece.
The Axel Springer media group, which owns Die Welt, mounted a huge sign proclaiming “#freedeniz” on the roof of its building in central Berlin.
Protests were also planned in Berlin and other cities across Germany, Switzerland and Austria on Feb. 28. A 100-vehicle motorcade was formed during the protests, in which Turkish-origin German lawmaker Cem Özdemir also took part.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas on Feb. 28 said Ankara’s prospects of joining the EU would become “increasingly difficult to impossible” unless it stuck to basic European values.
He also set a high bar for a possible visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who wants to hold rallies in a number of German cities to campaign ahead of the April 16 referendum on shifting Turkey to an executive presidential system.
“With respect to visits by Turkish politicians in Germany, it is clear that those who want to benefit from freedom of speech here should also safeguard the rule of law and freedom of the press at home,” Maas said in a statement.
Gabriel said the case was making it “extraordinarily difficult” for even well-intentioned Turks and Germans to continue to work for improved relations. He said Berlin was demanding consular access to Yücel and doing all it could to secure his release.
German President Joachim Gauck also condemned the arrest.
“We don’t understand in Germany why the attack on press freedom is necessary. The events that are unfolding in Turkey in the recent period are arousing suspicion on whether Turkey wants to remain a state of law or not,” Gauck said.
The French Foreign Ministry also said “it is fundamental that Turkey respects its commitments to the international community regarding freedom of speech, especially regarding the press, which is essential for a democratic society.”