Turkey’s arrest of six human rights defenders leads to more tension with Germany

As German government has been seeking to find a new way of handling with authoritarian Turkey, Turkish foreign ministry stated on Thursday that the comments by German officials regarding Turkey’s arrest of six human rights activists, including a German citizen, were unacceptable and amounted to interference in the judiciary,

Germany raised the possibility on Wednesday of suspending European Union aid payments to Turkey after summoning Ankara’s ambassador to Berlin to protest over the arrest of the six, including head of Amnesty International Turkey İdil Eser.

German citizen Peter Steudtner was also among those jailed pending trial on terrorism charges, which Berlin has labelled as “absurd,” in a move that further escalated tensions between the NATO allies.

“There was direct interference in the Turkish judiciary and the comments used overstepped the mark,” said the Turkish Foreign Ministry, referring to the comments by the German government and the foreign ministry spokesmen. “The comments again show the double standards in their approach to the law of those who prevent terrorists being brought to justice while embracing members of terrorist groups who target our country,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Thursday that Germany cannot continue as it had been in relations with Turkey, pointing to the need for a new direction in Turkish policy. “We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction … we can’t continue as we have done until now. We need to be clearer than we have been until now so those responsible in Ankara understand that such policies are not without consequences,” Gabriel told reporters. He said the new steps had been agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

His remarks came after a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry called comments by German officials regarding the arrest of six human rights activists “unacceptable.”

Gabriel cut his summer vacation short and held a press statement in Berlin to announce sanctions to be imposed upon Ankara. Gabriel pointed out that he had met with Chancellor Merkel and the administration from the other coalition partner, the SPD, and that these decisions were made by the federal government, and added that mutual trust has been damaged with each new crisis between the two countries.

Gabriel stated that Peter Steudtner has been the 22nd German citizen to be detained after the July 15 coup attempt and said that “What is interesting is that Steudtner has nothing to do with Turkey. He is not a Turkey expert, nor does he have any research on Turkish politics. Despite this fact, he was detained by the Turkish police on July 5 with allegations of ‘terrorism’.”

Gabriel has also said that Turkey long ago planned the arrest of German human rights consultant and activist Peter Steudtner, who was put in pre-trial detention on Tuesday. “The arrest of German activists is an attempt to silence critical voices, and the arrest of German human rights activist Peter Steudtner was planned long ago,” Gabriel said, as reported by BBC Turkish on Thursday.

Underlining that Steudtner had no relation with Turkish politics and that it was probably his first visit of the country, Gabriel criticized the arrest decision and said that “These accusations are obviously unfounded and have simply been dragged out irrationally.”

The German foreign ministry issued a warning to its citizens planning to visit Turkey. “Until now there was guidance for certain groups but we’re saying that now applies to all German citizens, not just for those with certain jobs. …. Everyone can be affected. The most absurd things are possible,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel has also stated that Erdoğan insulted the Berlin administration by saying they “engaged in Nazi practices” when Germany banned AKP rallies leading up to the April 16 referendum, and added that “We acted conscionably after every provocation. We showed patience in the face of unacceptable statements. But we are at the end of our patience.”

Gabriel implied that they won’t be using the same approach in the coming period, and stated that Turkey drifted away from not only European values, but NATO values as well. Gabriel announced that they will be reshaping their policies on Turkey and called on the AKP regime to “return to the EU values”.

German Foreign Minister Gabriel announced the sanctions as “EU funds”, “travel warning” and “reconsidering credit guarantees.” Gabriel said they are going to start a series of meetings in Brussels to cut off Turkey’s access to EU funds, and added that “We can’t advise anybody to invest in a country where there is no guarantee of law and people are detained and arrested every day. We will be reconsidering the credit guarantees for German exports.”

Gabriel also announced that they will be toughening the travel warning for German citizens wishing to visit Turkey. “This issue interests all German citizens. Any German citizen visiting Turkey runs the risk of allegations of terrorism and detention,” he said.

Meanwhile, German foreign ministry on Thursday warned its citizens to be more careful in traveling to Turkey, citing recent detentions of people there, and Ankara’s refusal to grant consular access in some cases, in violation of international law. “People who are traveling to Turkey for private or business reasons are urged to exercise increased caution, and should register with German consulates and the embassy, even for shorter visits,” the ministry said in a revised travel guidance.

“Foreign ministry sites are not always informed in a timely manner about the detention of German citizens, and access for consular services is not always ensured,” it added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also viewed a series of measures targeting Turkey that were announced by Gabriel as necessary and unavoidable, her spokesman said in a tweet.

“Merkel: The measures announced by the Foreign Minister against Turkey are necessary and unavoidable,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.

In response to the controversy surrounding Turkey-Germany relations, İbrahim Kalın, the Spokesperson of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, urged Germany to use common sense. “It is not acceptable for Germany to cast shadow on economic relations with Turkey over small political calculations, approaching elections” Kalın said, criticizing the country for “great political irresponsibility” which resulted in the escalation of a recent row.

“We think these unfortunate statements have to with the approaching elections in Germany. It has become a trend in Germany. Those who see that opposition to Turkey is strengthening their position are capitalizing on it. I believe they should think more rationally,” said Kalın in his statement.

Asking Germany to distinguish between tourists and suspects who are involved in dubious activities, Kalın said: “No one should shake one’s finger at Turkey from Europe. We want to have good relations with Germany, but it has to be mutual. If Europeans think of Turkey’s security as their own security, they’ll do a better job.”

On Wednesday the newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkish authorities had several weeks ago handed Berlin a list of 68 German companies, including Mercedes owner Daimler AG and BASF, they accused of having links to the Gülen movement. The claims were dismissed as “absurd” by German security sources.

Gabriel, without referring to those claims, said that “you can’t advise someone to invest in a country where there is no legal certainty and even completely innocent companies are linked to terrorism.”

July 20, 2017

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