Mesale Tolu

Turkey Releases One More German from Prison

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By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BERLIN — One by one, and at a painfully slow tempo, German journalists and intellectuals unlawfully imprisoned by the Turkish authorities are being released. On December 18, it was the turn of Mesale Tolu, a translator and journalist who had been held for seven months. She was allowed to walk out of jail, but must remain in the country and report to authorities every week. Five other prisoners were released the same day under similar conditions. Tolu’s next hearing is scheduled for April 26, 2018.

Together with 17 other persons, Tolu was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, the left extremist MLKP, and could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On being seized April 30, she and the others denied all charges. At her first hearing on October 11, she had stated that, when arrested, “The special police unit not only aimed a weapon at my son, but they also used force in arresting me in front of my child.”  At her second hearing on Monday, during which the Prosecutor proposed her conditional release, she reportedly said, “I was arrested because I am a journalist and it was intended to exert pressure on the media. Pressure on the media was continued but I think that the legal authorities will make the right decision.”   According to wire reports, a “secret witness”   who had testified against her in the first hearing, declined to do so again.

On hand during the hearing were Heike Hänsel, a German parliamentarian from the Linke (Left) party, Martin Erdmann, the German Ambassador, and Günter Wallraff, an investigative journalist and human rights activist. Tolu’s husband Suat Corlu, who was released from prison three weeks ago, and her father Ali Reza Tolu, were also present. On hearing his daughter would be freed, he said he was “the happiest person in the world,” and that they would all go home to celebrate together.

Tolu, who is 33, is of Turkish descent but since 2007 has had only German citizenship. She worked for a leftist group, the Etkin News Agency (Etha), and was arrested when authorities raided her apartment on April 30. According to wire reports, she had been accused of participating in two commemorations for Kurdish women who had died fighting against the Islamic State, of demonstrating for women’s rights and of attending the funeral of a member of the outlawed Communist Party.  During the first five months of her imprisonment, she had her son, then two years old, with her in an Istanbul women’s prison. After her first hearing in October, the child was allowed to go to Germany.

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Happiness and Relief in Berlin

The response from Berlin was positive. Maria Adebahr, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, stated, “She is out of custody, she is out, and that’s great.” Thomas Oppermann (SPD), who is Vice President of the Bundestag (Parliament), issued a message on Twitter, saying, “That is good news from Turkey. Now the others who have been unlawfully detained must be liberated.”   SPD leader Martin Schulz wrote that her release was long overdue. Cem Özdemir, Green Party leader, welcomed the news, but added that it would not change much regarding the miserable state of affairs of the justice system in Turkey.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was also measured in her response. “On the one hand,” she said, “it is good news, considering she has been freed. But on the other hand, not all good news, because she cannot leave the country and the trial will continue.” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was “not only good news but also a great relief.” In expressing his personal happiness for her release, he added that although the case “has not been closed, one big step has been taken.” Government spokesman Stefan Seibert, also glad that she could be reunited with husband and child, said it was not clear what the decision really meant. Most importantly, he said the German government’s pressure would continue.

 

Deniz Yücel

Political Pressure from Germany and EU

The government has been demanding that all German citizens being held as political prisoners be freed. Dogan Akhanli, who had been arrested while on vacation in Spain, eventually was allowed to return to Germany, as was human rights activist Peter Steudtner on October 25. But Deniz Yücel, a journalist for Die Welt who was jailed in February, is not only still in detention, but was in solitary confinement for 300 days, and only recently allowed to have contact with one other prisoner, in a small enclosed yard measuring 8 square meters. No charges have been brought against him yet.

Rainer Hermann, who was a long-term correspondent in Turkey, referred in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on December 18 to the remaining German prisoners as political prisoners who are essentially hostages. Since Turkish President Erdogan openly offered the United States a prisoner exchange, whereby American Pastor Andrew Brunson would be released in return for the extradition of Fetullah Gülen, it stands to reason that he would engage in such negotiations with Germany as well. But Germany will not comply. As Hermann explains, Turkey’s reasons for demanding extraditions are either non-existent or paper thin or not comprehensible; in addition, the German constitutional court could not comply, if the persons were threatened with life sentences under harsh conditions, or with no right to appeal.

One thing is certain, Hermann writes; Germany has exerted pressure and has also succeeded in bringing the EU on board. EU funds related to application for membership have been cut, expanding the customs union has been put on the back burner and, most importantly, big international financial institutions, like the European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have suspended loans for public projects. The pressure seems to be yielding some results, as one after another political prisoner leaves jail, and there is every reason to believe that the pressure will continue, as Siebert pledged. However, in Hermann’s view, this does not mean that a normalization of relations with Turkey is on the horizon. The process underway in Turkey, towards autocratic rule, has taken on a dynamic of its own.

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