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German pilgrim released from Turkish jail

December 22, 2017

The 55-year-old had been on a pilgrimage for peace when he was arrested. After arriving home Britsch criticized Turkish authorities, while Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said his release was a further "positive sign."

Pilger David Britsch nach Freilassung aus türkischem Gefängnis
Britsch points to a spot on the globe that made up part of his pilgrimage route before his arrest. He returned home to Germany on December 22.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

Pilgrim David Britsch was back at home for the holidays in Schwerin, east of Hamburg, on Friday after spending nearly nine months in a deportation detention center in Askale in eastern Turkey.

The 55-year-old expressed his relief over his homecoming while also criticizing Turkish authorities. He described his situation as that of a hostage of the Turkish state, German news agency dpa reported. 

Britsch had planned to make a pilgrimage from his home to Jerusalem on foot and without money, with the aim of carrying out a mission for peace. He left in November of last year and was in Antakya in southern Turkey near the Syrian border when he was arrested in April.

He had anticipated difficulties during his journey, Britsch said, but he had not reckoned "that a NATO partner and an EU accession candidate would so purposefully tread on the rule of law." Legal aid was withheld from him, as was information on why he'd been imprisoned, Britsch said.

Read more: Peter Steudtner: Detained activists in Turkey face 'unfair' judicial system

Britsch speculated that his arrest was due to the ongoing tense relationship between Germany and Turkey in the aftermath of a failed 2016 coup.

German pilgrim David Britsch
German pilgrim David Britsch finally made it back home after setting off in November of last yearImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

 'Another positive signal'

In announcing Britsch's release on Thursday night, Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel hailed the move as another step towards diluting tensions between the two countries.

"It is good that Britsch is finally coming home to Germany," Gabriel said in Berlin.

"Months of uncertainty and waiting in detention in Turkey are finally over. For me, his departure for Germany is another positive signal," Gabriel said. "Following these latest decisions in Turkey, six people have been released from prison or been allowed to leave" the country.

"Decisions like this make us hope we can rebuild confidence and the bilateral relationship step by step," the minister said, explaining why he had agreed to continue talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The foreign ministry in Berlin shared Gabriel's message on Twitter, adding that Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel, who continues to be held in Turkish prison, must be released.

Relief from family

After learning of his release, Britsch sent a message to his wife in Germany saying he was in Istanbul and could go on from there to travel home. "We are totally relieved and happy," his brother told Die Welt newspaper before the pilgrim had returned home.

Britsch is the second German national to have been released from detention in Turkey this week. On Monday, journalist Mesale Tolu was released from detention but has not been allowed to return to Germany.

German sociologist Sharo Garip also hopes to be able to return home after two years being refused an exit permit.

Seven other Germans are still being held in Turkey for what the government in Berlin considers to be political reasons.

cmb, jm/msh(AFP, dpa)