Turkey criticized over treatment of foreign journalists

BERLIN (AP) — German public broadcaster ZDF accused Turkey on Sunday of trying to intimidate foreign correspondents, after one of its journalists was denied government credentials and forced to leave the country.

Joerg Brase, the head of ZDF’s bureau in Istanbul, was given 10 days to leave Turkey after authorities refused a request to renew his media accreditation on March 1 without providing an explanation, the broadcaster said.

The long-time correspondent for Berlin-based daily Tagesspiegel, Thomas Seibert, was also denied a new press card, which foreign journalists need in order be granted residency permits.

“The expulsion of Joerg Brase is wholly incomprehensible,” ZDF director Thomas Bellut said in a statement. “He provided factual and competent reports from Istanbul.”

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Bellut said the decision appeared to be an attempt to “intimidate the correspondents,” but ZDF planned to stand firm.

“Turkey is an important country for Germany and we will continue to report without prejudice, factually and also critically from Turkey and about Turkey.”

He said the broadcaster plans to take legal action against the refusal to deny its correspondent accreditation. Meanwhile, other ZDF employees in Istanbul whose permits were renewed would continue to report from the country, Bellut said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticized the decision of the Turkish authorities, telling Tagesspiegel that “if journalists are prevented from doing their work, then that’s not compatible with our understanding of press freedom.”

“Without press scrutiny, (there can be) no free democracy,” he added.

Maas’ office updated its travel advice late Saturday for Germans planning to go to Turkey, citing Turkey’s treatment of foreign reporters.

“It can’t be ruled out that the Turkish government will take further measures against representatives of German media as well as civil society organizations,” the ministry said.

The ministry also cited Turkey’s “arbitrary arrest” in recent years of German citizens suspected of links to banned groups, such as the network of a Turkish cleric who lives in the U.S. Turkey accuses Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers of being behind a 2016 coup attempt.

The detentions of two German-Turkish journalists — Die Welt’s Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu — on terror-related charges led to a diplomatic crisis in 2017. Yucel was held for more than a year without being indicted and left Turkey after he was released. Tolu was allowed to leave in August.

In its 2018 media freedom index, advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 157th out of 180 countries.

Maas said Germany would continue to discuss the issue of media freedom with the Turkish government.

“We have a great interest in a functioning dialogue with Turkey, so that such critical questions can be discussed as well,” he said.

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Zeynep Bilginsoy and Lefteris Pitarakis in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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