Turkey sentences Germany-based journalist to prison in absentia

Deniz Yucel was convicted of "incitement to hatred" and spreading "terror propaganda."

al-monitor Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel speaks during the opening of the Bad Hersfelder Festspiele 2019 at Stiftsruine on July 5, 2019, in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images.

Jul 17, 2020

An Istanbul court has sentenced a prominent Turkish-German journalist to nearly three years in prison in absentia in a trial that has further heightened tensions between two NATO partners. 

Deniz Yucel, 46, was convicted of “incitement to hatred" and spreading "terrorist propaganda" through the articles he wrote about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party as a Turkey-based correspondent for Germany's Die Welt newspaper.

Yucel, who denies all the charges, did not attend the trial, and his lawyer says Yucel will appeal the court’s sentence of two years, nine months and 22 days in prison. 

Yucel has lived in Berlin since his release from Turkish custody in February 2018 after a year spent in pretrial detention, including solitary confinement. 

Turkish authorities have also accused Yucel of connections to Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the 2016 coup attempt. The court ruled Thursday that he was not guilty of spreading propaganda for Gulen’s network. 

Separately, the Istanbul court filed two new criminal charges against the journalist for “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president has routinely described Yucel as a “terrorist agent" and “German spy.”

In an article for Die Welt headlined "I regret nothing," Yucel wrote that he was arrested for simply doing his job. The ruling, he said, “shows once again what the rule of law is in this country: pathetic.”

Relations between Ankara and Berlin have soured over Turkey’s detention of a number of German citizens rounded up after the failed coup. In January, Germany’s Foreign Ministry announced 59 of its citizens were held in Turkish prisons and an additional 74 were barred from leaving the country pending investigation. 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the conviction sent the "absolutely wrong signal” and called for the release of the remaining German nationals. 

“As long as that is not the case, this stands against a normalization of Turkey’s relationship with us and the European Union as a whole,” Germany’s top diplomat tweeted.

Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people in recent years for alleged ties to terrorist groups, including the Kurdish rebels and the Gulen movement. The country is also considered one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists.

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