A Turkish court has handed down a prison sentence in absentia to German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel for terrorism propaganda, his lawyer said, in a case that has strained ties between Ankara and Berlin.
The court convicted Yucel on Thursday and sentenced him to two years and nine months in jail for spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), lawyer Veysel Ok said, adding he will appeal against the decision.
Yucel, who has denied the charges against him, returned to Berlin in February 2018 when he was released from custody after being kept in jail for a year without indictment.
The court ruled he was not guilty of sedition or of spreading propaganda for the network of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based religious leader accused by Ankara of plotting a failed coup in 2016.
The court also decided to file two separate criminal lawsuits against Yucel at the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish state.
‘I regret nothing’
In an op-ed for Die Welt, Yucel condemned the “political ruling” and rejected the new accusations as a “scandal”.
“Either way, the Turkish state was going to embarrass itself today. And this it did,” Yucel wrote for the newspaper, under the headline, I regret nothing.
The ruling “changes nothing about what I knew from the moment of my arrest: I was captured because I was doing my work as a journalist”, he said.
He told the dpa news agency that “with this ruling, the court has ignored the Turkish constitutional court. This shows once again what the Turkish justice system is like, namely pitiful”.
The managing director of the German branch of Reporters Without Borders called the charges “absurd” and described the ruling as “political and arbitrary”.
Yucel’s case – along with the incarceration of several other German nationals in Turkey – has raised tensions between Ankara and Berlin.
Shortly after his arrest, Berlin banned Turkish ministers from speaking to rallies of expatriate Turks, while Ankara accused Germany of supporting Gulen’s network.
Erdogan had repeatedly slammed Yucel, in one instance dubbing him a “terrorist agent”.
Last June, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled in a unanimous decision that Yucel’s year-long pre-trial detention was unlawful.
In May last year, Yucel told a Berlin court that Turkish officers tortured him while in prison, a charge Ankara denies
Erdogan’s international critics have questioned the independence of Turkey’s judiciary, especially since a crackdown after the attempted coup in 2016.
They say the government used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent, with Turkey one of the biggest jailers of journalists globally.
Erdogan and his AK Party say the measures are necessary given the security risks Turkey faces, and courts make independent decisions.
Ok said Turkey’s highest court had already ruled that articles written by Yucel on which the charges were based were within the remit of his freedom of speech, and the lower court had violated the law by not abiding by that ruling.
“[Judges] convict anyone who writes news on topics the ruling party does not want – on Kurds, on Armenians. This is confirmation that there is no press freedom in Turkey,” he said.