Turkey keeps German reporter behind bars over terrorism charges

#TurkeyPolitics

German reporter Mesale Tolu is accused of 'publishing terrorist propaganda' for communists linked to Kurdish militants

Amnesty International and 'Reporters without Borders' activists hold portraits of Turkish journalists detained in Turkey in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin (AFP)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 11 October 2017 20:42 UTC

A Turkish court on Wednesday ruled to keep under detention a German journalist and translator charged with membership of a banned radical leftist group, her lawyers said.

Mesale Tolu, 33, was detained in April on accusations of being a member of a “terrorist organization” and “publishing terrorist propaganda”.

Tolu, who is currently being held in the Bakirkoy women's prison in Istanbul, worked as a reporter and translator for the leftwing ETHA news agency.

Her husband was also detained and the couple's three-year-old son has been living with his mother in jail for the last five months.

Tolu is one of several German nationals detained under the state of emergency imposed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt last year, in a crackdown Berlin has criticised as excessive.

The journalist is one of 18 people on trial accused of membership of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), a communist party with links to armed Kurdish groups. They face up to 20 years in jail.

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"I have not committed any of the above mentioned crimes and have no connection with illegal organisations. I demand my release and my acquittal," Tolu told the court in Silivri, near Istanbul, Turkish media reported.

The court ordered that Tolu and five other defendants remain in jail pending trial, while releasing eight others. The next hearing will be on 18 December.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel demanded her release.

"We demand a fair trial, based on the rule of law. Above all, what matters now is speed so that Mesale Tolu can be released as soon as possible," he told Bild newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.

The cases have further strained bilateral relations after Ankara denied German lawmakers permission to visit German soldiers serving at the Incirlik air base.

In a crackdown on alleged perpetrators of an attempted coup last year, some 50,000 people been jailed pending trial.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Turkey's 12-year journey to join the European Union should be halted.

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Tolu said it was unacceptable that she and her son had spent five months in jail.

"Pre-trial detention has become punishment not only for me, but also for my family and for my son," she told the court.

Critics say there has been a drastic decline in press freedom under Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule, particularly in the wake of the failed coup.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 170 journalists behind bars in Turkey. 

The Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday that one of its reporters was jailed in absentia for two years and one month on charges of publishing "terror propaganda" in an article on clashes between the Turkish army and outlawed Kurdish militants.