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Detained activists in Turkey face 'unfair' judicial system

David Martin
December 8, 2017

Peter Steudtner, the German rights activist who was detained for four months in Istanbul, has told DW about life in Turkish prison. He decried Turkey's judicial system, where German citizens are held without charge.

Peter Frank Steudtner Türkei Freilassung
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/I.Terli

Turkey is failing to adhere to normal judicial practices by keeping political prisoners held without indictment and by having their trials repeatedly postponed, human rights activist Peter Steudtner told DW.

In a candid interview on Friday, just over a month after his release from prison in Istanbul in October, Steudtner expressed his solidarity with other German citizens currently imprisoned in Turkey, such as journalists Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu.

Read more: Opinion: That's not how the rule of law in Turkey should work

"For a lot of the political detainees, the situation is rather unfair… Deniz Yucel doesn't have an indictment, while for Mesale Tolu there is a process but it's going very slowly," Steudtner said. "This is very, very challenging and not according to judicial procedures as they should be."

Turkey: Defending human rights

Steudtner was arrested along with seven other human rights campaigner in Istanbul on July 5 on controversial terror charges, introduced as part of the Turkish government's widespread crackdown on the military, press, the academic community and civil servants following last year's failed coup attempt.

He and the group were released in October after the public prosecutor ruled they should no longer be kept in pre-trial detention. However, Steudtner still faces trial in Turkey on charges of "aiding armed terrorist organizations," such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and movement against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. If found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in prison. 

Asked about the political situation in Turkey, Steudtner pointed out that he had been poorly placed to follow recent developments in a Turkish jail, saying he would rather focus on the charges facing him and fellow activists.

"I would love to say the same thing that Deniz Yucel told me a few days before my release, like 'You're going to be out now'… but all I can say is 'I'm sure you're going to manage," said Steudtner.

The Turkish government's post-coup purge and detention of German citizens has soured relations between Berlin and Ankara.

According to figures released earlier this year by the German foreign ministry, there are roughly 50 Germans currently imprisoned in Turkey, of whom nine — including four with dual German-Turkish citizenship — are being held for what Berlin considers political reasons. Aside from Yucel and Tolu, the prisoners' name have not been made public.

Life in Turkish prison

Steudtner said that arriving in Turkish prison was like arriving in a new country. "The daily rhythm is new, while moving from one prison to the other means new routines," he said challenging

"There are very strict frames for everything," he added. "Perhaps solitary confinement was the strictest one I had for several days." Nevertheless, the rights campaigner maintained that he was treated "mainly with respect by the Turkish guards."

However, the most important factor that helped him see through the four months in detention was the solitary he felt, both from outside but also among his fellow inmates. "There was a lot of taking care of me, while I could also take care of [the fellow prisoners]. And knowing about all the solidarity action outside really helped me to carry on through these 113 days."

DW TV's Charlotte Potts conducted the interview with Peter Steudtner in Berlin. 

Turkish prosecutors seeking jail term of up to 15 years for Peter Steudtner