Berlin summoned Ankara’s ambassador yesterday (28 February) to protest the arrest in Turkey of a correspondent for a German newspaper, further fuelling tensions between the two NATO allies as demonstrations took place across German-speaking Europe.
Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish dual national with Die Welt, faces up to a decade in prison after being arrested on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting public violence, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.
“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 none that claimed to be democratic or to respect human rights could “misuse” its judicial system to go after journalists.
Yücel, the first German journalist held in a widespread crackdown in Turkey following a failed coup in July, was first detained on 14 February and on Monday (27 February) an Istanbul court ordered him to be jailed pending trial.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday 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 post-coup arrests and sackings of tens of thousands of people, and by a federal probe into possible spying by Turkish clerics in Germany.
At the same time, Berlin is counting on Turkey to uphold a deal with the European Union to prevent refugees from crossing to Greece.
Axel Springer media group, which owns Die Welt, mounted a huge sign proclaiming “#freedeniz” on the roof of its building in central Berlin, while protests against his arrest took place in ten German cities as well as in Switzerland and Austria.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas yesterday 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.
“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.
During their investigation, prosecutors questioned Yücel’s ties to a leftist hacker group alleged to have obtained emails from the private account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Yücel’s lawyer said.
They also questioned him about a 2015 interview with Cemil Bayık, a senior member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the lawyer said.
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.
Yücel said at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October he was lucky to have a German passport because it had allowed him to keep working. Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist now working in exile in Germany, told Reuters that “he had faith in his German identity, but it didn’t work.”
Dündar told Reuters.