Germany is welcoming home a journalist who spent a year awaiting charges in a Turkish prison, while the very same court on Friday sentenced six other journalists to life in prison.
Deniz Yucel, who holds dual citizenship in Germany and Turkey, made his return home to Germany Friday, where he writes for the German newspaper Die Welt and other publications.
“We are infinitely happy and grateful that Deniz is free again after a year behind bars,” the Axel Springer company, which publishes Die Welt, said in a press release Friday. “We are very happy for Deniz and we are thinking of all those colleagues who are still behind bars, because they do what we all want to do: Be journalists — critical, incorruptible, persistent and passionate.”
Trial still pending
Yucel’s legal ordeal is not over, however. Turkish media reports he was released, pending trial, as the court handed down an indictment accusing him of spying on behalf of Germany. Prosecutors are seeking four to 18 years in prison.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters that the release came after months of diplomacy, including two meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a call for Yucel’s release by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. But Gabriel told Deutsche Welle on Friday that the release was not the result of a diplomatic agreement.
“I can assure you there are no agreements, tradeoffs or deals in connection with this,” he said.
Six journalists sentenced to life
Also Friday, after Yucel’s indictment and release were announced, the court sentenced three prominent Turkish journalists to life in prison on charges of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.
The three, newspaper editor Ahmet Altan, columnist Mehmet Altan and TV news anchor Nazli Ilicak, were accused of having ties to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey says organized the coup attempt.
Three others, a graphic designer, advertising director and security analyst, were sentenced to life in prison along with them.
Erdogan’s government responded to the coup attempt by closing 150 news organizations and arresting tens of thousands of people, including large numbers of soldiers, judges, teachers and journalists.
Turkey has long been considered one of the world’s most active jailer of journalists, according to the U.S.-based nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ reported in December that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world is at an all-time high, with Turkey, China and Egypt ranked as the three nations with the most journalists in prison.