Die Welt reporter Yücel arrested over stories on Erdoğan’s son-in-law

Journalist Deniz Yücel participated in a vigil for jailed journalists in front of Silivri Prison on Jan. 11, 2016.

German daily Die Welt’s Turkey reporter Deniz Yücel, who was detained in Turkey on Feb. 14 as part of an investigation for publishing stories on the leaked emails of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, who is also Turkey’s Energy Minister, Berat Albayrak, was arrested by a court on Monday, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Bariş Yarkadaş has announced on Twitter from the courthouse.

The prosecutor had accused Yücel of “disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization” and “inciting people to hatred and enmity.” The period of detention of Yücel, who has been in custody since Feb. 14, was extended last week. Yücel was detained as part of an investigation for publishing stories on the leaked emails of Albayrak.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has harshly reacted to a Turkish court decision to arrest journalist Deniz Yücel by calling it “disproportionate.” “The German government expects that the Turkish judiciary, in its treatment of the Yücel case, takes account of the high value of freedom of the press for every democratic society. We will continue to insist on a fair and legal treatment of Deniz Yücel and hope that he will soon regain his freedom,” she said, criticizing move as “bitter and disappointing.”

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also reacted to the decision, saying it showed in “glaring light” the differences between the two countries in evaluating freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, Reuters reported.

Yücel is the first German reporter to be held in Turkey, where over 190 journalists are already behind bars.

Yücel was detained in Turkey on Feb. 14 as part of an investigation for publishing stories on the leaked emails of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak.

In a story on Monday Deutsche Welle (DW) underlined that conditions have worsened in Turkey for non-Turkish journalists.

“Many foreign journalists declined to comment as some said they do not want to compromise their visa or press card applications. Others said the situation is ‘very sensitive’ for commenting on the topic,” DW said.

Speaking to DW, an İstanbul-based freelance foreign journalist who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “The major shift since 15th of July 2016 is the availability of sources, the personal verbal attacks when reporting, and perceived threats of arrest. After the coup, Turks became much more cautious about talking politics to the foreign press and talking in public. We can meet in cafés or offices, but doing interviews in the street is more difficult. People don’t want to be seen answering questions.”

The same journalist said that in light of the detentions, deportations and bans of some members of the foreign press, she has become more cautious about the topics she covers and how she covers them.

“Everybody recognizes that there is now self-censorship in Turkey. For example, I don’t tweet my own articles and I don’t use the hashtag #Erdogan,” she said.

German press organizations on Feb. 19 called on Turkish authorities to release Yücel. After a detention warrant was issued for Yücel, he turned himself in to police in İstanbul. German Journalists Union (DJV) President Frank Überall, who spoke to the Evrensel daily, said Yücel should be released immediately.

“Journalism is not a crime. Deniz Yücel is not a criminal but a journalist, and he has done nothing other than journalism. So, we demand his immediate release,” said Überall.

Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz, who has been conducting the investigation into Yücel, cited as offenses “manipulating information received from leaked emails of Albayrak and discrediting the government.” Yücel along with other journalists are accused of trying to create the perception that Albayrak is linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Christian Mihr, director of Reporters Without Borders Germany, also released a statement calling for Yücel’s immediate release. Mihr said the reason behind Yücel’s detention was the critical news reports he wrote.

Last week more than 125,000 people in Germany signed a petition that urges German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU Commission to adopt a clear and resolute position on the current state of freedom of expression in Turkey.

According to a report released by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) on Jan. 26, 2017, 191 journalists are either convicted and serving time in prison or jailed in pre-trial, and the most of the journalists have not even seen an indictment against them. The report also stated that 92 journalists are wanted for arrest but remain at large either in Turkey or abroad. SCF has also said that the number of media organizations seized and shut down by the government has reached 189.

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