Meşale Tolu, a Turkish-German journalist, went on trial for terrorism charges in Turkey on Wednesday, saying she was innocent and demanding her immediate release, in a case that has damaged already sour relations with Berlin, reported by Reuters.
Journalist Tolu was detained in April 2017, accused of being a member of a terrorist organization and publishing terrorist propaganda. Her husband was also detained and their three-year-old son has been living with his mother in jail for the last five months. Tolu is one of 18 people on trial accused of membership of the MLKP, a communist party with links to armed Kurdish groups. They face up to 20 years in jail.
“I have not committed any of the above mentioned crimes and have no connection with illegal organizations. I demand my release and my acquittal,” Tolu told the court in the campus of notorious Silivri Prison, near İstanbul, Turkish media reported.
Tolu has also said it was unacceptable that she and her son had spent five months in jail. “Pre-trial detention has become punishment not only for me but also for my family and for my son,” she told the court.
The court ordered that Tolu and 5 other defendants remain in jail pending trial, while releasing 8 others. The next hearing will be on December 18.
Tolu’s lawyer Ezgi Gündoğdu has told to Deutsche Welle on Wednesday that “Tolu was arrested on April 30 in a police house raid. She was charged on May 6 with being a ‘member of an armed terrorist organization’ and “spreading terrorist propaganda.” She has spent five and a half months in custody. She had been working as a reporter and translator for the news agency ETHA, which is not connected to armed actions. The indictment cites her membership in the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP) as membership in a terrorist organization. In regards to ETHA, we see this as an effort to undermine journalism.”
Gündoğdu said journalist Tolu is charged with being a member of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) and added that “The evidence against her is alleged attendance of funerals and memorial services for party members such as Yeliz Erbay, Şirin Öter, Suphi Nejat Agırnaslı and Ivana Hoffmann, who died in Syria. There are photos of her between December 17-25, 2013, at protests against government corruption. A magazine on Marxist-Leninist theory was found in her apartment, which is deemed to be evidence of her membership in the organization. The magazine is not prohibited, [and] even as a journalist, she could have a prohibited publication in her possession on research grounds.”
Saying that in comparison to the jail in Silivri, her conditions in Bakırköy are a bit better, lawyer Gündoğdu stated that “She is in a cell with 10 others. Her three-year-old son, Serkan, is also with her. This is the most important point of our motion to release, and we are asking the judge to be particularly sensitive to this point. Serkan should be starting preschool, but he is living with his mother in jail. His father is one of the 18 detained defendants. Tolu’s family lives in Germany. We have filed a motion with the court to release Tolu for the trial, but have yet to receive a response.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel demanded her release. “We demand a fair trial, based on the rule of law. Above all, what matters now is speed so that Meşale Tolu can be released as soon as possible,” he told Bild newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.
Tolu is one of 11 German nationals detained in Turkey – among them fellow journalist Deniz Yücel and human rights campaigner Peter Steudtner. The cases have added to strains in bilateral relations after Ankara denied German lawmakers permission to visit German soldiers serving at the İncirlik air base.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Turkey’s 12-year journey to join the European Union should be halted.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 280 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 8, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.