German jailed in Turkey on terrorism charges

His family claimed Patrick K. was on a hiking holiday, but Turkey said he was fighting for the Kurdish YPG militia. Now a court in Sirnak has sentenced the German man to over six years in prison.

A Turkish court on Friday sentenced a German man to six years and three months in prison for membership of a terrorist organization. In addition, he received a suspended sentence of one year and eight months in jail for entering a military exclusion zone.

Since last year, a number of German citizens have been detained in Turkey, putting serious strain on relations between Berlin and Ankara.

Details of the case

  • Patrick K. was arrested near the Turkish-Syrian border on March 14.
  • Turkish authorities charged him with being a member of the YPG, which Turkey classifies as a terrorist group along with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
  • Local authorities also reportedly said that Patrick K. confessed to wanting to join PYD/YPG and that he'd served for several years in the German military.
  • Turkish officials have not revealed the circumstances under which Patrick K. confessed, nor have they said if an independent interpreter was present.
  • His family said that the 29-year-old was in the area to go hiking. At the time of his arrest, the Bundeswehr told DW that Patrick K. was never a member of the German military.
  • The court hearing on Friday lasted under an hour, according to Patrick K.'s lawyer. His trial only began three weeks ago.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

The Böhmermann affair

March 31, 2016: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed charges against German comedian and satirist Jan Böhmermann over his "defamatory poem" about the Turkish leader. German prosecutors eventually dropped the charges on October 4, 2016, but the case sparked a diplomatic row between Berlin and Ankara.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

German lawmakers pass resolution to recognize 1915 Armenian Genocide

June 2, 2016: The resolution passed almost unanimously. In response, Turkey recalled its ambassador in Berlin and Germany's Turkish community held protests in several German cities. Turkey had repeatedly criticized the use of the term genocide to describe the Ottoman-era Armenian killings, arguing that the number of deaths had been inflated, and that Turkish Muslims also perished in the violence.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Tensions following failed coup in Turkey

July 15, 2016: A faction of the Turkish military tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but ultimately failed. Ankara accused Berlin of not taking a clear stand against the coup attempt or not doing anything about exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen's organization, who Erdogan blames for orchestrating the failed coup.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Germany criticizes post-coup purge

Immediately following the attempted coup, Turkish authorities purged the army and judiciary, detaining thousands of people. The purge expanded to include civil servants, university officials and teachers. German politicians criticize the detentions. Turkish diplomats, academics and military members fled the country and applied for asylum in Germany.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Kurdish rallies in Cologne

Erdogan's post-coup crackdown has also been condemned by Kurdish protesters at several mass demonstrations in the west German city of Cologne. Often the rallies have called for the release of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey considers to be a terror group. Ankara has accused Berlin of not doing enough to stop PKK activities.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Arrest of German citizens in Turkey

February 14, 2017: Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for the "Welt" newspaper, was taken into custody in Turkey. Other German nationals, including journalist Mesale Tolu and human rights activist Peter Steudtner were detained in Turkey for what Berlin dubbed "political reasons." Turkey accused them of supporting terrorist organizations. All three have since been released pending trial.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Germany bans Turkish referendum rallies

March 2017: A number of German localities blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies in their districts ahead of an April referendum in Turkey to enhance President Erdogan's powers. The Turkish leader then accused Germany of using "Nazi tactics" against Turkish citizens in Germany and visiting Turkish lawmakers. German leaders were not amused by the jibe, saying Erdogan had gone too far.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Spying allegations

March 30, 2017: Germany accused Turkey of spying on hundreds of suspected Gulen supporters as well as over 200 associations and schools linked to the Gulen movement in Germany. Turkish asylum-seekers have since accused officials working in Germany's immigration authority (BAMF) of passing on their information to media outlets with ties to the Turkish government.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Erdogan urges German-Turks not to vote for 'enemies of Turkey'

August 18, 2017: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed three of Germany's main political parties as "enemies of Turkey" and told Turks living in Germany not to vote for them in September's general election. He singled out Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), the Social Democrats (SPD), and the Greens. Merkel said Erdogan was "meddling" in Germany's election.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Merkel says Turkey should not become EU member

September 4, 2017: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during an election debate that she didn't think Turkey should become a member of the European Union and said she would speak with other EU leaders about ending Ankara's accession talks. In October, she backed a move to cut Turkey's pre-accession EU funds.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Turkey's military offensive in Afrin

January 20, 2018: The Turkish military and their Syrian rebel allies launched "Operation Olive Branch" against the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. The move was criticized by German politicians and prompted large protests by Kurdish communities in Germany.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Journalist Deniz Yücel released from prison

February 16, 2018: Turkey ordered the release of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel after he'd been held for over a year without charge. According to Turkish state media, Yücel was released on bail from pre-trial detention. Prosecutors asked for an 18-year jail sentence for Yücel on charges of "terror propaganda" and incitement.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Özil quits

July 2018: German footballer Mesut Özil quit the national team following the fallout from his meeting with the Turkish president. Özil said he was being made a scapegoat for Germany's forgettable performance at the FIFA World Cup in Moscow because of his Turkish heritage. Erdogan praised Özil's decision and slammed the "racist" mistreatment of the footballer.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Travel ban lifted

August 2018: A Turkish court removed the travel ban on German journalist Mesale Tolu, who was arrested last year on terrorism-related charges. But the trial against Tolu, who has since returned to Germany, is set to continue. Her husband, Suat Corlu, who is facing similar charges, has been ordered to remain in Turkey.

Conflicting accounts: Turkish authorities claim to have found an email that Patrick K. sent to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed faction of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), according to German public broadcaster ARD, citing the Turkish indictment. In the email he allegedly offered to fight for the group in exchange for help. The case was based on the testimony of Patrick K.'s cellmate, who allegedly recognized the German man. The witness claimed to have seen Patrick K. in a YPG uniform working as a doctor at a hospital in Syria in January this year. There was no evidence in the indictment, however, that shows that Patrick K. traveled to Syria.

Patrick K.'s family concerned for his health

The 29-year-old's friends and family back in Germany were shocked by the prison sentence, maintaining that the charges against him were baseless.

"Patrick was convicted for nothing, that was an awful surprise," one of his friends told news agency DPA.

Ahead of Friday's court decision, Patrick K.'s mother told DPA that she was concerned for her son's health, saying that he was currently suffering from an ear infection and had lost three teeth. He's been detained for the last seven months in a prison in the eastern Turkish province of Elazig.

Patrick K.'s lawyer, Huseyin Bilgi, said his client was "very sad" about the sentence.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed to Reuters news agency that Patrick K. had been sentenced.

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German minister in Turkey: The verdict coincided with German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier's two-day visit to Turkey. Altmaier underscored Berlin's commitment to "compliance with human rights and press freedom," but shied away from directly calling out the Turkish government. During talks in Ankara on Friday, Altmaier said that he wants to discuss Patrick K.'s case in sideline discussions with Turkish officials.

'Political arrests': In the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government jailed thousands of people under sweeping anti-terror laws. Several dual German-Turkish nationals were also detained, including a correspondent for Die Welt newspaper, Deniz Yücel, human rights activist Peter Steudtner, and journalist Mesale Tolu. Many have since been released from prison in Turkey, but still face charges there. At least five German nationals are still detained in Turkey for what Berlin describes as "political reasons."

What happens next: Patrick K. is planning on appealing the Turkish court's sentence, his lawyer said.

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Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

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