HRW: Erdoğan’s visit an opportunity for Germany to address human rights concerns in Turkey

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel should use the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s upcoming visit as an opportunity to raise numerous human rights concerns, including the plight of the many journalists, human rights defenders and politicians who are jailed in Turkey, wrote Hugh Williamson, director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Europe and its Central Asia division.

While noting that the German government has come under criticism for Erdoğan’s upcoming three-day visit, which is set to include a military guard and state banquet, Williamson stressed an improvement in German-Turkish relations and the release of journalists such as Ahmet Altan from prison should be made a prerequisite for the improvement in German-Turkish relations.

Altan, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole, was charged with “using force and violence” to overthrow the government and accused of having known in advance about a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

“Human Rights Watch regards the case as entirely politically motivated and the charges without merit,’’ Williamson stressed, noting that Altan and other defendants in the same trial, such as veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak and Altan’s brother Mehmet Altan, should be freed and their charges dropped.

Williamson also said that through Erdoğan’s visit German authorities have an opportunity to convey a clear message that it is not only German nationals in prison who matter but also Turkey’s own citizens who are arbitrarily detained.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 236 journalists and media workers were in jail as of Sept. 13, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 168 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

The full text of the Williamson’s article is as follows:

“Germany’s Message to Erdoğan: Free Journalists, Rights Defenders, Politicians Jailed in Turkey

Given the present state of human rights in Turkey, the German government has come in for criticism over the elaborate plans for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey’s upcoming visit on September 28 and 29, including a state banquet. But  President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel should use the opportunity to raise numerous human rights concerns, most pressingly the plight of the many journalists, human rights defenders and politicians arbitrarily jailed in Turkey.

One of them is the well-known novelist and political commentator Ahmet Altan, whose newest book was published in German this week. Its  German title is  “Ich werde die Welt nie wiedersehen: texte auf dem Gefangnis”  — “I will never see the world again: writings from prison.”

Altan, in prison for over two years, was among the first writers in Turkey to be sentenced to life without parole on the allegation that he encouraged the abortive coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. The evidence against him? His commentary and writings critical of the government, which have never advocated violence, insurrection or any criminal act, and witnesses who signed incriminating statements against him but were never even heard in court. 

Human Rights Watch regards the case as entirely politically motivated and the charges without merit.  Altan and other defendants in the same trial should be freed and their charges dropped. The verdict of the appeal in their case Is scheduled for October 2. Another jailed defendant in the same trial, also sentenced to life in prison, is 74-year-old veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak. Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan’s brother, was given the same sentence but remains at liberty.

Both President Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel have the opportunity to convey a clear message that it is not only German nationals in prison who matter but also the fate of many of Turkey’s own citizens who are arbitrarily detained on politically motivated charges.

An improvement in German-Turkish relations should require their release from prison and an end to the Turkish authorities’ systematic violation of basic human rights.

Germany should call for steps by Turkey to disprove Ahmet Altan’s words ‘ich werde die Welt nie wiedersehen.'”   

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!