Germany is sharpening its policy toward Turkey in response to imprisonments of journalists and human rights activists, Deutsche Welle reports. The new tone together with an increased travel warning has been met with outrage in Ankara.
Germany’s foreign minister interrupted his vacation on the North Sea to return to Berlin to deliver the most strongly worded statement yet against Turkey’s imprisonment of German journalists and human rights activists.
Gabriel said that Germans traveling to Turkey were incurring “risks,” and the ministry website recommended Germans should exercise “heightened caution” when visiting Turkey since “consular access” to Germans detained in Turkey had been “restricted in violation of the obligations of international law.”
The re-calibration of Germany’s Turkey policy came after a court in Istanbul ordered six human rights activists, including Peter Steudtner from Berlin, to investigative custody on Tuesday. Turkey accuses them of supporting terrorism. Gabriel specifically mentioned Steudtner.
“These accusations are obviously unfounded and have simply been dragged out irrationally,” the foreign minister said, adding that Steudtner had taken no position on current Turkish politics and was quite possibly present in the country for the first time.
The Amnesty International representative was arrested earlier this month at a conference in Istanbul while teaching Turkish colleagues about IT security and non-violent conflict resolution. Eight other Germans are currently in investigative custody.
Turkey has accused Germany of interfering in its internal affairs. There has been speculation that Erdogan is using the German detainees essentially as hostages in an attempt to force Berlin to deport Turkish citizens in Germany whom Ankara considers terrorists.
Other German politicians have called for a range of measures to punish Turkey from general economic sanctions to a cancellation of the deal between the EU and Turkey on refugees.
The Turkish government criticized Gabriel’s remarks and the announced change in the German position. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meanwhile reacted by accusing Germany of harboring terrorists:
Cavusoglu said on Twitter that “As a country providing shelter to PKK and FETO terrorists in its own territory, statements by Germany are just double standards and unacceptable,” referring to the outlawed, militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the religious-inspired network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that Ankara blames for the July 15, 2016 failed coup.
Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, meanwhile said: “We strongly condemn statements that German citizens who travel to Turkey are not safe and that German companies in Turkey should have hesitations and concerns.”
The Chairman of the Commission for Foreign Affairs Taka Ozhan, a member of Erdogan’s AKP party, repeated Turkish accusations that Germany is harboring Turkish citizens who are trying to overthrow the government – in particular, Kurdish separatists and members of the Gulen movement.
The number of Turks applying for asylum in Germany dramatically increased last year amidst a government crackdown after the failed Turkish coup on July 15, 2016. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been arrested and more than 100,000 have lost their jobs in Turkey.