Opposition officials and human rights groups have condemned the arrest in Turkey of a German newspaper correspondent as an “assault on freedom of expression” and attempt at intimidating foreign press in the country.
Germany’s foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to Berlin on Tuesday, with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, having described the arrest decision as “bitter and disappointing”.
“Turkey now has the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, and free media in the country is in its death throes,” said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International.
“We are urging the Turkish authorities to release Deniz Yücel and all other journalists in pre-trial detention immediately and unconditionally, and to cease this assault on freedom of expression and dissident voices. Journalism is not a crime – the media blackout in Turkey must end now.”
Yücel was arrested after reporting on the hacking of the private emails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and the son-in-law of the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The court also accused him of propaganda on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a designated terror group fighting an insurgency against the Turkishstate, partly because of an interview he conducted two years ago with Cemil Bayık, one of the PKK’s founders.
The journalist’s arrest was the latest in a broad crackdown on the media in Turkeyafter a failed coup last July. But it was the first time a German journalist was arrested in what was interpreted as an attempt to intimidate the foreign press reporting from inside the country.
“This verdict is a message to foreign journalists and journalists who are reporting from Turkey to international media outlets,” said Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a MP with the opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) who is monitoring the lawsuit against Yücel.
The CHP said there were now 152 journalists in custody in Turkey including Yücel, and that 173 media organisations had been closed down since the attempted coup, including magazines, newspapers, radio stations, news agencies and websites.
More than 2,500 journalists have been laid off because of the closures and 800 journalists have had their press cards cancelled by the authorities, according to Barış Yarkadaş, a CHP MP who monitors the trials of journalists.
The Turkish authorities argue the broad purge, which has affected tens of thousands of civil servants, police and military officials, judges, academics and journalists, is a necessary measure to eliminate security threats after the failed coup.
But critics say it has gone far beyond that purpose and that it aims to stifle dissent in the country.
In April, Turkey is heading to the polls to vote in a referendum on a presidential system that will give broad powers to Erdoğan.