Rights groups, journalist associations in Germany to protest visit of Turkey’s Erdoğan

The German Federation of Journalists (DJV) and Amnesty International (AI) have announced they will hold a joint rally in Berlin to protest Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s state visit at the end of this month, according to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW) on Thursday.

The head of the DJV on Thursday described Erdoğan’s upcoming state visit to Germany as a “slap in the face” as the group announced it would protest the occasion outside Berlin’s central train station.

According to DW, the rally, slated to coincide with Erdoğan’s arrival in the German capital on September 28, is being organized with the cooperation of several other rights groups, including AI, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the German Journalists’ Union (DJU).

By agreeing to meet with Turkish President Erdoğan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier have effectively conceded that the “abolition of press freedom is a purely Turkish affair” that has no bearing on relations with Germany,” DJV chief Frank Überall said.

During his two-day visit to Germany on September 28 and 29, Erdoğan will be received with military honors and a state banquet hosted by Steinmeier, before having talks with Merkel.

German-Turkish relations have been badly strained on the back of Ankara’s wide-scale purge of the civil service and military. Erdoğan’s purge has also seen some 250 journalists detained, mostly on the grounds of supporting “terrorist groups.” Among those arrested were dual German-Turkish nationals Deniz Yücel and Meşale Tolu, although both have since been released pending trial.

Announcing it was organizing the joint rally, AI said in a statement that “Criticism of the government, working for a ‘suspicious’ organization, coming into contact with sensitive sources, or simply using an encrypted messaging system — all these are enough for journalists to be arrested on terror charges.”

Turkey’s embassy in Berlin played down claims that Erdoğan was set to address German-Turkish nationals in Cologne on the second day of his state visit. Germany’s Turkish-Islamic organization DİTİB had confirmed this week that Erdoğan would open the new central mosque in Cologne, the country’s largest, visiting the site with top regional politician Armin Laschet.

However, embassy spokesperson Refik Soğukoğlu told the DPA news agency that “a major speech was not planned” as part of the opening ceremony. Nevertheless, Erdoğan still may hold private talks with DİTİB officials.

Turkish political rallies have been a point of contention in Germany ever since Erdoğan was barred from addressing 40,000 of his supporters via video link in 2016. Last year, he was twice denied permission to hold rallies Germany; first in March ahead of a referendum to grant him sweeping new powers, and then again in July ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg when he was pushing a plebiscite to reintroduce the death penalty.

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.

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