German parliament to debate Deniz Yücel′s articles following AfD criticism | News | DW | 22.02.2018
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German parliament to debate Deniz Yücel's articles following AfD criticism

The Bundestag is set to debate an AfD proposal urging Berlin to distance itself from journalist Deniz Yücel's prior work. The AfD's critique focuses on a 2011 satirical column about Germany's declining fertility rate.

Journalist Deniz Yücel's release from Turkish prison last week was celebrated by many across Germany's political spectrum, with one exception — the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Over the past year, while the German-Turkish journalist was in prison, the AfD and other far-right groups have voiced criticism of his work, with AfD parliamentary party leader Alice Weidel calling him an "anti-German hate preacher."

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Now, the party is taking their criticism to the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.

According to the Bundestag's website, a 45-minute debate on "statements from Deniz Yücel" is penciled in on the calendar for Thursday evening.

The AfD will reportedly present a proposal calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to distance itself from Yücel's statements, saying they amount to "incitement." It remains unclear whether MPs will vote on the AfD's proposal or if it will be passed on to parliamentary committees for consideration, according to the Bundestag's website.

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Journalist Deniz Yücel (picture-alliance/Eventpress/Stauffenberg)

Before working as a Welt correspondent, Yücel wrote about issues in German society

Backlash over Yücel's taz articles

The AfD has particularly taken issue with a 2011 column and a 2012 article that Yücel wrote while working at the German daily Tageszeitung (taz).

The column was a response to a 2010 book by a German Social Democrat and banker, Thilo Sarrazin, who was highly critical of migration and cultural change in Germany. Sarrazin called his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (roughly, "Germany is doing away with itself"), and the book ultimately led to him leaving his political party.

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Yücel's column looked at Germany's decades of sluggish fertility rates and aging population — a popular topic among columns at the time. Twisting Sarrazin's premise, Yücel titled his column: "Super, Germany is doing away with itself!"

"The coming departure of the Germans, however, is the best side of a Völkersterben [roughly translated, the death of a people]," he wrote in the column. Yücel followed the sentence by noting Germany's dark World War II history but also poked fun at the stereotypical "boundless self-pity" and "perpetual bad moods" of Germans.

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In the piece, he also joked that statistics show the "East Germans will be the first to do away with themselves." The AfD pulled strong support in last year's general election from Germany's eastern states.

The second article that the AfD takes issue with is one that Yücel wrote about Sarrazin in 2012, in which he said he hoped the author would have a stroke. The following year, a German court ordered taz to pay Sarrazin €20,000 ($24,600) in damages over the article.

After taz, Yücel worked as a Turkey correspondent for the German newspaper Welt, where he wrote critically about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's policies following a 2016 failed military coup.

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AfD parliamentary party leader Alice Weidel (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Dittrich)

The AfD's Weidel also took aim at Yücel's dual national status, saying that he "shouldn't actually have German citizenship"

Critics decry parliament debate as threat to press freedom

The head of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV) harshly criticized the AfD for holding a parliamentary debate regarding Yücel's work.

"It's downright absurd that the AfD wants to use the Bundestag as a stage for their disturbed relationship to press freedom and freedom of expression," DJV chairman Frank Überall said on Wednesday.

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Georg Löwisch, the editor-in-chief of the taz, said that his paper defends freedom of expression and practices it as well.

The AfD should "learn that texts from journalists do not need the approval of a party, the parliament or politics in general — at least not in a democracy," Löwen told the German Protestant news agency epd.

The Social Democrat's parliamentary whip Carsten Schneider said that the AfD's proposal is "an attack on Germany's fundamental values."

AfD takes aim at Yücel's dual citizenship

Another issue at play is Yücel's dual German and Turkish citizenship, a status that the AfD strictly opposes. In her Facebook post following Yücel's release, Weidel wrote that calling Yücel a "German journalist" was "two pieces of fake news in one sentence."

"A journalist who downright hates our country, who crossed the boundaries of good taste not only once, shouldn't actually have German citizenship," she wrote.

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Yücel was detained for a year in Turkey without any official charge, although he was accused of supporting a terrorist organization.

Merkel's government, as well as media organizations and activists, repeatedly implored Ankara to release him from prison as well as set free other Germans or dual nationals who are being detained in Turkey.

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