A Turkish court on Friday sentenced a German man, identified as Patrick K., to six years, three months in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.
In addition, he received a suspended sentence for entering a prohibited military zone, according to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW).
His family claimed German national Patrick K. was on a hiking holiday. However, the Turkish government said he was fighting for the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militia. Since last year, a number of German citizens have been detained in Turkey, putting a serious strain on relations between Berlin and Ankara.
According to the report by DW, Patrick K. was detained near the Turkish-Syrian border on March 14, 2018. Turkish authorities charged him with membership in the YPG, which Turkey classifies as a terrorist group along with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Local authorities also reportedly said that Patrick K. confessed to wanting to join the PYD/YPG and that he’d served for several years in the German military. However, Turkish officials have not revealed the circumstances under which Patrick K. confessed nor have they said if an independent interpreter present.
His family said the 29-year-old was in the area to go hiking. At the time of his arrest, the Bundeswehr told DW that Patrick K. was never a member of the German military. The court hearing on Friday lasted under an hour, according to Patrick K.’s lawyer. His trial only began three weeks ago.
Turkish authorities claim to have found an e-mail that Patrick K. sent to the YPG, the armed faction of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), according to German public broadcaster ARD, citing the Turkish indictment. In the e-mail he allegedly offered to fight for the group in exchange for help. A witness claimed to have seen Patrick K. in a YPG uniform working as a doctor at a hospital in Syria in January of this year. There was no evidence in the indictment, however, that shows that Patrick K. traveled to Syria.
The 29-year-old’s family back in Germany were shocked by the prison sentence, maintaining that the charges against him were baseless. “Patrick was convicted of nothing, that was an awful surprise,” one of his friends told news agency DPA.
Ahead of Friday’s court decision, Patrick K.’s mother told DPA that she was concerned for her son’s health, saying that he is currently suffering from an ear infection and has lost three teeth. He has been detained for the last seven months in a prison in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ.
Patrick K.’s lawyer, Hüseyin Bilgi, said his client was “very sad” about the sentence. Patrick K. is planning on appealing the sentence, his lawyer said.
A German foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed to Reuters news agency that Patrick K. had been sentenced.
The verdict coincided with German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier’s two-day visit to Turkey. Altmaier underscored Berlin’s commitment to “compliance with human rights and press freedom,” but shied away from directly calling out the Turkish government. During talks in Ankara on Friday, Altmaier said that he wants to discuss Patrick K.’s case in sideline discussions with Turkish officials.
In the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government jailed thousands of people under sweeping anti-terror laws. Several dual German-Turkish nationals were also detained, including Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel and human rights activist Peter Steudtner as well as journalist Meşale Tolu.
Many have since been released from prison in Turkey but still face charges there. At least five German nationals are still detained in Turkey on what Berlin describes as “political reasons.”
Meanwhile, Germany’s Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung reported that a total of 45 individuals from Germany have traveled to Iraq and Syria since April 2017 to join the ranks of the YPG.
The German Interior Ministry released data on people joining the YPG in response to a parliamentary question submitted by the Left Party. Prior to April 2017, the number of people from Germany who joined YPG ranks in Iraq and Syria was 204, 69 of whom were German citizens.
The German newspaper reported that most of these individuals who “had links to Germany” left the country to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) along with YPG fighters in Syria.
Among those who have joined the YPG since April 2017 from Germany were reportedly German citizens, Turkish citizens, German citizens of Turkish descent and Syrian citizens. The US considers the YPG to be the most effective force in the fight against ISIL in Syria.