German journalist freed from jail in Turkey pending trial
ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish court ordered German journalist Mesale Tolu and five co-defendants released from prison Monday pending the outcome of their trial on terror-related charges.
Tolu, 33, a German citizen with Turkish roots, is charged with engaging in terrorist propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group — the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. She has denied the accusations.
The court in Istanbul said Tolu could go free, but it barred her from leaving Turkey. She must also report to authorities at regular intervals.
She is on trial at a courthouse in Istanbul with 17 other defendants. Tolu is one of six who remained in pre-trial detention until Monday’s decision. All defendants have now been freed pending a verdict.
Before her arrest in May, Tolu worked as a translator and journalist for the Turkish ETHA news agency. Turkish prosecutors considered her attendance at the funerals of several members of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party as evidence of her membership in the outlawed group.
Tolu faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if she is convicted of all charges.
“Even though the reasons for my arrest are different on my file, the real reason for my arrest is the fact that I worked for ETHA, for a socialist news agency,” Tolu told reporters after her release. “That’s when I became a target for the state’s police and security.”
“I am tired but I am happy. This happiness was worth it all. I have rejoined my family and my friends,” she said.
Tolu was one of nine German or German-Turkish citizens arrested in Turkey for reasons Berlin considers to be political. The cases have been a factor in soured relations between Turkey and Germany in recent months.
In Berlin, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told reporters: “We take note of this news with joy and relief.”
She added that more than two dozen German citizens are currently barred from leaving Turkey.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that “if confirmed this is really good news” that might result in improved German-Turkish relations.
“We see this as a very positive step,” he said.
“This isn’t just good news, it’s a great relief,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement Monday.
“I believe all of us in Germany — and I personally, too — are happy for Mesale Tolu about the court’s decision,” he said. “This doesn’t end the legal proceedings, but it’s a first, big step toward that.”
Scores of journalists have been jailed in Turkey on terror-related charges as part of a wider government crackdown launched in the wake of last year’s failed coup.
Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist for German newspaper Die Welt, was arrested Feb. 14 and remains in prison. Turkish authorities accuse him of disseminating terrorist propaganda, inciting hatred and espionage. Yucel denies the allegations.
Associated Press journalists Neyran Elden in Istanbul, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.