The #FreeDeniz movement sweeping Germany has further strained German-Turkish relations and Turkish attempts to rally support for President Erdogan’s proposal to redraft the Turkish constitution that will grant the President executive powers. Chancellor Merkel has accused Erdogan of censoring the free press.
NATO member Turkey is finding it difficult to convince the German government to allow them into Germany to promote a controversial referendum taking place in April.
Germany, home to over 1.4 million people of Turkish descent who are eligible to vote in the Turkish referendum, has accused Turkish President Erdogan’s decision todetain German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, 43, amongst other journalists, as an assault against freedom.
Several German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel have denounced the actions to detain the dual citizenship journalist, calling them “bitter and disappointing.”
“This measure is disproportionately harsh, especially given that Deniz Yücel presented himself to the Turkish justice system voluntarily and for the purpose of the investigation,” Chancellor Merkel added. “The German government expects that the Turkish justice system keeps in mind the great importance that press freedom has in any democratic society in its treatment of the Yücel case.”
Deniz Yücel, who works for Die Welt, a German newspaper, was detained on Feb. 14, after a crackdown on media freedom. Over 150 Turkish journalists have been arrested, with over 700 losing their credentials since last year’s failed coup. Over 100 news outlets in Turkey have also been closed.
Deniz Yücel’s jailing, pending trial on terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred charges, comes after his reports of a hacker accessing Turkey’s energy minister’s email – Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. Yücel has been accused of helping the leak of the minister’s emails reach WikiLeaks.
Yücel has in the past, also investigated and written on the ‘outlawed’ Turkish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and was openly critical of the President Erdogan’s treatment of ethnic Kurds.
German diplomat Sigmar Gabriel also expressed his concern over detaining Yücel. “The case of Deniz Yucel casts a harsh light on the different way in which our two countries appear to apply the principles of rule of law and the way we assess press freedom and freedom of speech.”
The expansion of power referendum, if passed, will see a redrafting of the Turkish constitution and abolish the Prime Minister’s post. This in turn will remove a ‘buffer’ and hand full executive powers to the Turkish vice president and president, reports al Jazeera.
The drafting of the constitution will also allow President Erdogan to resume his AKP leadership if passed, something Erdogan had to step aside from after elections, as a Turkish head-of-state currently must be of non-partisan office.
The redrafting will also extend the time in office to five years and calls for the next presidential elections to take place in late 2019, giving Erdogan an extra year in office.
German citizens have protested, calling for a ban on entry against the Turkish President. Turkey’s justice minister has also announced his cancellation of plans to meet with his German counterpart after permission was withdrawn for him to use a venue for his political rallying in support of the referendum.
Bekir Bozdag was due to speak in Gaggenau, near the French border as part of the referendum campaign to encourage Turks in Germany to vote ‘yes,’ and boost the Turkish President’s powers.
“The fact that Germany, which at every opportunity speaks of freedom of expression … has cancelled a meeting of the Turkish community is unacceptable,” Bozdag said. “How can we speak of democracy in a country that does not allow one meeting to take place?”
The constitutional reform that Erdogan seeks will expand his powers as the Turkish President. If a ‘yes’ vote is cast, Erdogan’s powers will substantially increase; the German government is questioning his motivations.
You can join in with the movement calling for Deniz Yücel’s release on Twitter, by using #freeDeniz.