Steudtner: Detained activists in Turkey face ‘unfair’ judicial system

Photo: DW

Turkey is failing to adhere to normal judicial practices by keeping political prisoners held without indictment and by having their trials repeatedly postponed, human rights activist Peter Steudtner told Deutsche Welle (DW).

Giving an interview to DW on Friday, just over a month after his release from prison in İstanbul in October, Steudtner expressed his solidarity with other German citizens currently imprisoned in Turkey, such as journalists Deniz Yücel and Meşale Tolu.

“For a lot of the political detainees, the situation is rather unfair… Deniz Yücel doesn’t have an indictment, while for Meşale Tolu there is a process but it’s going very slowly,” Steudtner said. “This is very, very challenging and not according to judicial procedures as they should be.”

Steudtner was arrested along with seven other human rights campaigner in İstanbul on July 5, 2017 on controversial terror charges, introduced as part of the Turkish government’s widespread crackdown on the military, press, the academic community and civil servants following last year’s controversial coup attempt.

He and the group were released in October after the prosecutor ruled they should no longer be kept in pre-trial detention. However, Steudtner still faces trial in Turkey on charges of “aiding armed terrorist organizations,” such as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement. If found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Asked about the political situation in Turkey, Steudtner pointed out that he had been poorly placed to follow recent developments in a Turkish jail, saying he would rather focus on the charges facing him and fellow activists. “I would love to say the same thing that Deniz Yücel told me a few days before my release, like ‘You’re going to be out now’… but all I can say is ‘I’m sure you’re going to manage,” said Steudtner.

DW reported that the Turkish government’s post-coup purge and detention of German citizens has soured relations between Berlin and Ankara. According to figures released earlier this year by the German foreign ministry, there are roughly 50 Germans currently imprisoned in Turkey, of whom nine — including four with dual German-Turkish citizenship — are being held for what Berlin considers political reasons. Aside from Yücel and Tolu, the prisoners’ name have not been made public.

Steudtner said that arriving in Turkish prison was like arriving in a new country. “The daily rhythm is new, while moving from one prison to the other means new routines,” he said challenging “There are very strict frames for everything,” he added. “Perhaps solitary confinement was the strictest one I had for several days.” Nevertheless, the rights campaigner maintained that he was treated “mainly with respect by the Turkish guards.”

However, the most important factor that helped him see through the four months in detention was the solitary he felt, both from outside but also among his fellow inmates. “There was a lot of taking care of me, while I could also take care of [the fellow prisoners]. And knowing about all the solidarity action outside really helped me to carry on through these 113 days.”

Meanwhile, international artists joined the call for the release of Deniz Yücel, held in a Turkish jail for 300 days, DW reported. Nobel laureates J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, Svetlana Alexievich, Herta Müller and Orhan Pamuk; film directors Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff and Fatih Akın; painters Gerhard Richter and Daniel Richter; and musicians Bono, Sting and Toten Hosen are among 200 people who signed a statement saying that:

“Deniz Yücel will have been in detention in Turkey for 300 days on December 10 – he is detained without charge in a high-security prison. The 300 days are exactly 300 days too many,” the statement under the #FreeDeniz online campaign added.

The statement went on to say that Yücel had done nothing but do his job and give his opinion.

“We demand a fair trial and freedom for Deniz Yücel and all other journalists detained for political reasons in Turkey. Freedom, equality, fraternity — always and everywhere.”

Yücel was arrested on charges of sedition and disseminating propaganda affiliated with terror groups. The 44-year-old reporter denies the charges and has demanded a fair and speedy trial from the Turkish judiciary. With no court date set, Yücel has also made several demands that he be released, all of which have been dismissed by the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Yücel was initially detained for reporting on leaked emails of Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Prosecutors later arrested him for “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” after he interviewed a leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). A formal indictment, however, has not been submitted.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of December 7, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 26 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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