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Dutch journalist 'barred from leaving Turkey'

Jacob Alexander (AFP, Reuters, AP)April 25, 2016

A Dutch journalist has said she was detained overnight by police for sending tweets deemed critical of the Turkish president. Columnist Ebru Umar says she is still forbidden to leave the country.

Ebru Umar türkische Journalistin
Image: cc by Oscar 2.5

Authorities released Dutch journalist Ebru Umar from police custody on Sunday but barred her from leaving Turkey as they continue to investigate tweets she posted about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Umar, a high-profile atheist and feminist writer of Turkish origin, said she was woken up late Saturday at her home in Kusadasi, a resort town in western Turkey.

"Two men were banging on the door, and said I had to go with them because of two tweets," she told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

A columnist for "Metro" newspaper in the Netherlands, the 45-year-old was detained for questioning on the orders of a prosecutor for social media postings deemed to be "insulting to state leaders," Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

"Metro" recently published a column critical of Erdogan, and Umar had posted extracts on social media.

Twitter storm erupts

The hashtag #freeebru has been trending in the Netherlands since news of Umar's hourslong detention, with Dutch politicians and commentators demanding her release.

In a tweet, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he had called Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in the afternoon. Umar's detention "directly hits our core values - freedom of expression and press freedom," he said.

And Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders released a statement criticizing Turkey - an aspiring EU member - for locking up critical journalists.

"A country that is a candidate to join the EU should continue to push for press freedom and freedom of expression," said Koenders.

The columnist's detention was not necessarily unexpected. A political storm erupted in the Netherlands this week over reports of an email sent by the Turkish consulate to Turkish cultural organizations that encouraged people to forward any emails and social media posts which insulted Erdogan or Turkey.

But diplomats inside the Turkish consulate said the note was sent by a consular official who used an "unfortunate choice of words" that was misinterpreted.

EU accused of placating Erodgan

Human rights and media freedom groups have repeatedly complained that Turkey is clamping down on dissent. Nearly 2,000 legal cases have been opened against individuals accused of insulting the Turkish president since Erdogan maneuvered from prime minister to president in a 2014 election.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials were in Turkey over the weekend to bolster a deal to limit the flow of migrants to Europe.

Merkel und Erdogan
Many EU lawmakers have criticized Erdogan's crackdown on critics, including a lawsuit against a German comedianImage: picture alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

EU leaders - including Merkel - have been accused of not speaking out against Turkey's crackdown on freedom of expression because of the country's role in stopping the refugee influx.

Merkel has come under criticism in her own country for her decision earlier this month to grant Turkey's request to let German prosecutors open a lese-majeste case against a German comedian who mocked Erdogan on state television with a satirical poem.