Arrest of German Die Welt correspondent in Turkey causes alarm and outrage

by Jane Whyatt and Ana Ribeiro

Europe’s media freedom community is united in condemning the arrest of Deniz Yücel, Turkey correspondent for the German national daily Die Welt. His reporting related to a minister's hacked e-mails has led to charges of “spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting the public to violence.”

Yücel was born in Hessen, Germany, with Turkish heritage. He worked as an editor for the German taz newspaper before moving to Die Welt in 2015. He has dual German and Turkish citizenship, and has been based at the latter newspaper’s Istanbul bureau.

ECPMF Chair Henrik Kaufholz states:

ECPMF condemns the politically-motivated detention of Deniz Yücel. We urge the Turkish authorities to release him, and to treat cases in line with the rule of law, according to the European Convention on Human Rights. Journalism is not a crime, and Turkey must respect the right of foreign correspondents to do their jobs."

Kaufholz further states that "the detention of a foreign correspondent is a very serious development. It comes in addition to the imprisonment of nearly 150 Turkish journalists. Dozens more have been forced into exile. If international reporters are also threatened with jail, who will be left to provide independent news coverage of Turkey?

Yücel’s case and Turkey’s crackdown on foreign journalists

According to Deutsche Welle (DW), Yücel and six other journalists working for Turkish media have been detained in the affair involving the RedHack “leftist hacker collective.” DW specifically referred to Yücel’s reporting on e-mails RedHack extracted from the private account of Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak - “a son-in-law and close political ally of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”

Yücel was held for 14 days, during which a judge had to decide whether he should be arrested or released. The journalist was then questioned, and now faces jail time and an upcoming trial after a prosecutor recommended his arrest on 27 February. 

Although Yücel is the first German journalist to be detained in Turkey, prosecuting foreign journalists seems to be a growing trend under Erdoğan.

Dutch freelancer Fréderike Geerdink, who has been dedicated to covering the Kurdish issue, was briefly detained and then expelled from Turkey in 2015; journalists from Britain and Iraq were arrested as well. Geerdink told the ECPMF that she used to feel safe as a foreigner reporting in Turkey, backed by the clout of European politicians; however, the scenario has changed as Erdoğan has been showing increasing disregard towards “what Europe thinks.”

This has been especially evident since the attempted coup against the regime in July 2016, and the state of emergency declared and extended since.

Reactions from Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the arrest and charges “disproportionate”, and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also expressed disapproval.

"The German government expects that the Turkish judiciary, in its treatment of the Yücel case, takes account of the high value of freedom of the press for every democratic society,” Merkel was quoted as saying. “We will continue to insist on a fair and legal treatment of Deniz Yücel and hope that he will soon regain his freedom."

Under the hashtag #FreeDeniz, activists took to Twitter and to the streets of Berlin last week to call for Yücel’s release, projecting the hashtag on the Turkish Embassy building. Demonstrators drove their cars in a motorcade around the town hall in Yücel’s hometown of Florsheim, waving homemade banners with the same message.

Motorcades in support of the jailed journalist have been planned to spread across major German cities. Another demonstration was set to take place in Berlin on 28 February, involving also journalists and politicians.

Die Welt and its publisher Axel Springer SE have been supportive of Yücel, promoting the slogans #FreeDeniz and "Wir sind Deniz", the latter in the style of "Je suis Charlie" and derivatives.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –