German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel has returned to Germany after spending more than a year in a Turkish prison, jailed without charges. His release comes as six fellow journalists were sentenced to life in prison.
Deniz Yücel arrived in Berlin on Friday evening after spending one year in a Turkish prison, held without formal charges on terror allegations. He was reunited with colleagues and friends upon his arrival at Berlin's Tegel Airport after departing Istanbul a few hours earlier on a chartered Aerowest plane.
The release of the German-Turkish journalist and his homecoming fulfilled a long-standing demand from the German government. However, five Germans and more than 100 Turkish journalists currently remain in Turkish prisons.
In addition, Turkey's Anadolu agency reported Friday that a court — in the same building as the one that ordered Yücel's release — had sentenced six journalists to life in prison without parole for crimes against the state. The journalists, who include prominent figures such as Ahmet Altan, his brother Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak, were accused of involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt, the first individuals to be charged in relation to the failed takeover.
Political leaders in Germany cautioned that Yücel's release should not be taken as a sign of a major shift in German-Turkish relations. Over the last year, Yücel's detainment became a major point of contention in the countries' bilateral relations.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reacted with cautious relief.
"I am of course happy for him, I am happy for his wife and family, who had to endure a very, very difficult year of separation," Merkel said. "I know there are other people, perhaps less well known, who are in prison in Turkey and we hope their legal proceedings will be resolved quickly."
Gabriel described Yücel's release on Friday as a "good day" before denying that Berlin had cut a deal with Ankara.
"I can assure you there are no agreements, trade-offs or deals in connection with this," the minister said.
Gabriel said later "this is the beginning of a job and not the end."
Steinmeier expressed the hope that the release will create "conditions that lead to an improvement in German-Turkish relations."
Volker Kauder, the leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction in the Bundestag, said the release did not necessarily mean closer ties for Germany and Turkey.
"The release is to be welcomed, but it does not cancel out the injustice dealt to Mr. Yücel," Kauder told the Rheinische Post on Saturday.
"We are thinking only of the other prisoners, including Germans who are also in prisons under dubious legal circumstances." Kauder also expressed concern about the human rights situation and, in particular, religious freedom in Turkey.
Özdemir: 'We should not forget about the other journalists'
Public statement in Germany
In a video posted Friday evening to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of a Free Deniz association, Yücel expressed mixed feelings about the ordeal he had gone through.
Neither his arrest nor his release had anything to do with "justice and law," he said.
"The funny thing is, I still don't know why I was arrested one year ago, or more precisely, why I was taken hostage one year ago — and I also don't know why I was freed today," he said. "I still don't have a charge," he added, before thanking family, friends, colleagues and support groups, as well as the German government "for its efforts."
"Of course I am happy, but some bitterness has been left behind," Yücel said, mentioning his fellow journalist inmates of the past months who remain in prison. "They haven't done anything except to practice their professions."
Yücel's employer breathed a sigh of relief: "For one year we wrote, read and said 'Free Deniz' every day. Today we can say: 'Deniz is free,'" said Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner in Berlin.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said news of Yücel's release was "encouraging" but stressed that "many more such cases must follow so that EU-Turkey relations can really improve."
The prosecutors have charged the journalist with "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" and "inciting people to hatred and hostility" and are seeking an 18-year prison sentence.
Yücel, who holds both German and Turkish citizenship, is a correspondent for German daily Die Welt. He was arrested at a police station in February 2017 after being summoned for questioning about a report he wrote on the Turkish energy minister. He remained in custody for just over one year on suspicion of terrorism-related offenses.