Turkish court lifts travel ban for Turkish-German journalist Meşale Tolu

Meşale Tolu.

A Turkish court has lifted a travel ban on German journalist Meşale Tolu, who was arrested last year on terrorism-related charges, the German Press Agency (DPA) reported on Monday.

However, Tolu’s trial was set to continue on Oct. 16, a support group named Freiheit für Meşale Tolu (Freedom for Meşale Tolu) said in a statement. Her husband, Suat Çorlu, must also remain in the country to face similar charges.

The decision was unexpected after an İstanbul court in April ruled to keep the travel ban against her in place. The 33-year-old German citizen with Turkish roots is accused of disseminating terrorist propaganda and membership in a banned left-wing group, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP).

A Turkish court on Dec. 18 ordered Tolu’s release pending a verdict; however, an İstanbul court ruled in April to keep the travel ban against her in place.

Before her arrest in May 2017, Tolu worked as a translator and journalist for the Turkish Etkin News agency (ETHA). Turkish prosecutors considered her attendance at the funerals of several members of the outlawed group as evidence of her membership in the group. Her case was among the issues that have soured relations between Turkey and Germany.

The court ruling that removed the travel ban for Tolu came as Turkey tries to repair its strained ties with Berlin. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed bilateral relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call on Aug. 15.

The two leaders agreed upon a meeting between the finance ministers of Turkey and Germany, while Merkel stressed that Berlin supports a strong Turkish economy. Erdoğan and Merkel also discussed their planned meeting in Berlin at the end of September.

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 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of August 15, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 145 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 a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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