ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish court convicted a correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt newspaper Thursday of engaging in propaganda in favor of Kurdish rebels and sentenced him in absentia to more than two years and nine months in prison.
However, the court acquitted German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel of charges of sedition and propagandizing for the network of a Turkish cleric whom Ankara accuses of masterminding a failed military coup in Turkey four years ago.
The court also called for two new criminal investigations of Yucel for alleged insults to Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Yucel was arrested in Istanbul as part of a vast government clampdown in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt and charged with propaganda on behalf terror groups, including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. He was held in pretrial detention for a year and has since returned to Germany.
His case led to a diplomatic crisis with Germany, which accused Turkey of conducting “arbitrary arrests” of German citizens suspected of links to the PKK or the network led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“This is a political verdict, just as the whole story of my arrest was politically motivated,” Yucel wrote in an article published on Die Welt’s website shortly after the ruling. He said the decision once again illustrated the “miserable” state of the rule of law in Turkey.
Yucel said “I was arrested because I did my work as a journalist. I regret nothing about that. And sooner or later, a court will establish that.”
“Of course an acquittal would have been not just legally mandatory but also a relief,” he wrote. “But ultimately, I don’t care about this verdict — it also has no practical effects.”
Yucel’s lawyer, Veysel Ok, told the Associated Press that he would appeal the verdict to a higher court. He also complained that the trial court had ignored a decision by the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest court, that said Yucel’s year-long detention violated his rights.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the verdict “sends absolutely the wrong signal, and the announcement of further investigations is not at all comprehensible to me.”
“This shows that we still have significant differences on protecting the freedom of the press and opinion,” Maas said in a statement. “This development also doesn’t contribute to building confidence in the application of the principles of the rule of law in Turkey.”
Maas noted that other German nationals remain in Turkish custody and said that in several cases the accusations against them are “not clearly understandable.”
“We want all of these cases to be resolved,” he said. “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.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has labeled Turkey one of the world’s top jailers of journalists. The Journalists’ Union of Turkey says at least 76 journalists and media sector workers remain behind bars.
The Turkish government says the detentions are not based on the journalists’ work and that most stand accused of terror-related offenses.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.