Turkey denies torture claims by journalist Deniz Yücel

Turkey's Foreign Ministry has denied claims that the German-Turkish journalist was tortured in prison near Istanbul. It has also rejected a warning from Germany that Turkey should stick to the UN anti-torture convention.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Sunday issued a statement rejecting claims that officers tortured German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel while he was held in pretrial detention at Silivri prison near Istanbul.

"Our country acts in compliance with its international obligations in its fight against torture, as it does in all areas," the ministry statement said.

"Our country thoroughly investigates all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and demonstrates, on every occasion, a transparent position on this issue."

Read more: 'Erdogan let me be tortured in Turkish prison'

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Deniz Yücel: A year behind bars

Yücel's story has gripped Germany for the past year. Following his arrest on February 14, 2017, he was accused of sedition and spreading terrorist propaganda but never charged. Articles he wrote about Ankara's conflict with the Kurdish minority and the failed coup of July 2016 may have prompted the allegations. He also spent time in solitary confinement which he described as "almost like torture."

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Angela Merkel: 'I am happy'

The German chancellor expressed her pleasure at the news of Yücel's release during a joint press conference with Poland's prime minister: "I am pleased, like many, many others, that he could leave prison today. I am happy, of course, for him and for his wife." She noted, however, that that there were still some "not so prominent cases" of journalists in jail in Turkey.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Joyfully reunited

Yücel was met outside the prison by his wife, TV producer Dilek Mayatürk. They married while he was behind bars. During his time in prison, she was allowed to visit him only once a week, according to a report in the Sunday edition of Welt.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Sigmar Gabriel expects Yücel's return

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel had made continued efforts at the diplomatic level to gain the journalist's release. "This a good day for us all." He added that he expected Turkish officials to allow Yücel to leave the country.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

German journalists and Amnesty: 'Don't forget the others'

The German Federation of Journalists (DJV) and Amnesty International, however, warned that other journalists should not be forgotten amid the good news. "The freedom of the press is still being massively eroded," said DJV's Frank Überall (pictured). Markus Beeko of Amnesty International Germany echoed his sentiment, reminding that his counterpart in Turkey remains in prison after eight months.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Yücel released, while others given life sentences

Shortly after news came that Deniz Yücel had been freed, it was reported that three prominent Turkish journalists — Mehmet Altan (above), his brother Ahmed Altan and Nazlic Ilicak — had been sentenced to life imprisonment for links to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara holds Gulen responsible for the failed coup. The journalists' cases have raised new alarm over the rights situation in Turkey.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Crackdowns continues

Turkey is still under a state of emergency more than a year and a half after an attempted coup. More than 38,000 people, including journalists and teachers, are in jail, while over 110,000 have been sacked from government jobs. Ankara has told international critics that it is necessary to root out all Gulen followers for security reasons.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Protests at detentions in Turkey

The crackdowns have, however, been met with a number of protests both in Turkey and in Germany, whose nationals have also been scrutinized by the Turkish government. The German Foreign Office is aware of 28 German citizens who were arrested in the crackdown, while 31 German nationals are banned from leaving the country.

Deniz Yücel's release triggers joyful reactions — and continued warnings

Heiko Maas: 'Overdue news'

Expressing his delight at the news of Yücel's release, German Justice Minister Heiko said that Berlin would continue to do everything in its power to gain the freedom of all German nationals unjustly imprisoned in Turkey "as quickly as possible."

Erdogan 'personally responsible'

Testifying before a Berlin district court on Friday, Yücel — a former Turkey correspondent for German daily Die Welt — spoke about being hit, kicked, humiliated and threatened during his near yearlong detention in the prison.

The 45-year-old journalist holds Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally responsible for the alleged psychological and physical violence that he underwent while in prison.

 Yücel's testimony is part of an ongoing trial against him in Turkey, where he is accused of "terrorist propaganda" amongst other charges. Turkish prosecutors have recommended an 18-year prison sentence. A Turkish court recently ruled that Yücel is allowed to testify while in Germany.

Read more: A return to dark days for journalists in Turkey

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.

'Beaten with baseball bats'

Meanwhile, another Turkish journalist, who criticized Erdogan, was beaten by a group of "people with baseball bats," his newspaper said Saturday.

Yavuz Selim Demirag was attacked on Friday night shortly after he moderated a TV talk show during which the recent Istanbul elections were discussed.

Turkey's election council has ordered a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, which the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) won on March 31.

Six suspects were detained following the attack, Yenicag reported on Sunday.

Read more: Germany slams plan for Istanbul vote rerun

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