Turkish government releases German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel

A Turkish court, İstanbul 32nd High Criminal Court, has accepted an indictment seeking up to 18 years in jail for German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel and decided to release him from custody pending trial, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday. Journalist Yücel has left Turkey from İstanbul International Atatürk Airport with a private jet sent by Germany on Friday evening.

Yücel, a reporter for German newspaper Die Welt, was taken into custody on February 27, 2017 on suspicion of spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and put into the Silivri Prison in İstanbul. He denied the accusation. The German Foreign Ministry earlier confirmed his release.

Journalist Yücel said while leaving prison he was given a court ruling ordering him to stay in prison. “This was a very interesting day. I was given a court decision while I was leaving the [Silivri] prison. A ruling by the 3rd Penal Court of Peace dated February 13 [2018]: Continuation of arrest. Despite this ruling I was released. Why I was released today, why I was arrested a year ago, I still do not know,” Yücel said in a video posted on social media after he arrived in Germany.

“Whatever it is. I know that neither my arrest last year, I was taken hostage, nor my release today is related to the law or the rule of law. I know this very well. I think everybody who sees this situation can understand it,” he added. “There is a lot to say, but that is all for now.” Yücel expressed his gratitude to all who supported him while in prison for a year.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he believed the 44-year-old Yücel would be able to leave Turkey.

“Finally! Best news ever. Deniz Yücel is free,” German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a tweet. Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer has also said during a regular news conference on Friday that the release would be “an important first step” after massive diplomatic efforts.

A foreign ministry spokesman said there were still contentious issues between Germany and Turkey, whose ties deteriorated after Ankara’s crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in 2016.

Yücel’s case has become the focus of particular attention for Germany. The spokeswoman said that Berlin had not agreed to any “dirty deals or other arrangements” to secure the release.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the release, but she also called on Ankara to guarantee fast judicial proceedings for other German citizens still being held in Turkish custody.

“I‘m pleased, just like many, many others, that he was able to leave jail today,” said Merkel, who on Thursday held talks in Berlin with Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met on Thursday with PM Yıldırım in Berlin and they have discussed “some positive steps on jailed journalist Yücel” amid harsh reactions from German opposition circles.

As addressing members of the press in Berlin on Thursday, Merkel was asked about Yücel’s case and replied that she hoped for a fast and fair process. While Yücel’s case had been discussed in the meeting, there was no link between it and other issues under discussion, she said. “I said during the talks that we hope for a fast and constitutional (judicial) process for Deniz Yücel,” Merkel told journalists on Thursday.

While Berlin says six German citizens are being held in Turkey for political reasons, it was the case of journalist Yücel which had attracted much of the attention ahead of the talks as it has been a major reason for diplomatic tension between the two countries. Yücel, a correspondent for Die Welt in Turkey, has been detained on terror charges for a year.

Turkish PM Yıldırım had said that the Turkish courts had a lot of cases to hear following the attempted coup in July 2016 which had caused delays but added nothing further to his comments earlier in the week. Yücel’s case was up to the Turkish courts, not the government, the prime minister claimed. “I hope that his trial will start soon and that it comes to a result.”

In an interview on ARD German television, Yıldırım had previously said of Yücel that “I hope that he will be released soon. I think there will be a development shortly.” Yıldırım urged the cases such as Yücel’s should not affect bilateral relations and added that “We do not want these and similar matters to harm relations between Turkey and Germany.”

Green politician Cem Özdemir had criticised German government in a Tweet that what he saw as an overly-friendly approach to Turkish government and called for press freedom, democracy and the rule of law to be restored in Turkey before relations with Germany were normalised. He said Ankara should not receive any “economic assistance” until German journalist Yücel was freed. And even then, he stressed, “all would not be well in Turkey.”

Left party parliamentary group leader Sahra Wagenknecht also tweeted that Merkel should not “cozy up” to Erdoğan and his government given the “catastrophic human rights situation” and the “war in Syria against the Kurds.” She also called for EU accession talks and weapons exports to Turkey to be stopped.

Özdemir and Wagenknecht called for Yücel to be freed without concessions. “Everything else would be a slap in the face of Deniz Yücel, who explicitly said he wouldn’t want to be part of any dubious exchange deals,” Özdemir told German news agency DPA.

Wagenknecht told DPA that it was “unbearable that Yücel has been detained for a year now and still Turkey continues to receive millions of euros worth of loans from Europe.”

Turkish law professor Yaman Akdeniz has asked a very pertinent question on his Twitter account on Friday and assessed the court’s decision to release Deniz Yücel by saying that “Release of #DenizYücel is good news. But why was he imprisoned and why was he released? This demonstrated clearly the judiciary is under the control of politicians. You cannot explain this with the law.”

The recent release of fellow journalist Meşale Tolu and activist Peter Steudtner had eased tensions with Ankara, but according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), there are more journalists are in jail in Turkey than in any other country.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 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.

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