The arrest last week of a journalist with dual German and Turkish citizenship who investigated a relative of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been condemned in Germany and threatens to deepen the rift between the two countries.
Deniz Yücel, the Turkey correspondent for German daily Die Welt, was detained by police in Istanbul, his newspaper reported on Friday.
Mr. Yücel, who was born in Frankfurt, is the first German reporter to be arrested amid the ongoing crackdown on press freedom in Turkey.
He has reported from Turkey for Die Welt since 2015, and was detained in connection with a report on hacked emails from Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak. The hacked emails, which allegedly contained evidence of corruption in the country’s government, were first publicly released in October last year by the Marxist group RedHack, then indexed by WikiLeaks.
Mr. Albayrak is the son-in-law of Turkish President Mr. Erdogan, and one of his close political allies. Government-friendly media have dubbed RedHack a terrorist organization.
Mr. Yücel, 43, went to police headquarters last Tuesday to answer investigators’ questions. His apartment was allegedly searched.
Under Turkey’s ongoing state of emergency, he can be held for up to 14 days before a judge must decide whether authorities can continue to keep him in custody.
“The Chancellor expressed the federal government’s expectation that Deniz Yücel is treated fairly and in accordance with the law.”
Mr. Yücel’s detention was widely condemned in Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.
“She has pointed out that it is of the utmost importance that Mr. Yücel receive comprehensive support from the German embassy,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “The Chancellor expressed the federal government’s expectation that Deniz Yücel is treated fairly and in accordance with the law.”
Mr. Yildirim said he has no knowledge of what exactly Mr. Yücel is accused of. “That’s the prosecutor’s job,” the Turkish Prime Minister told journalists in Munich on Sunday.
Andreas Scheuer, the secretary general of the Christian Social Union, the influential Bavarian sister party of Ms. Merkel center-right Christian Democratic Union, condemned what he called Turkey’s “attempt to muzzle and lock up journalists.”
“The Turkish prime minister should finally respect the basic right of freedom of the press in Turkey and advocate for the release of Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel,” the politician told German news magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday.
Six further journalists, all working for Turkish news outlets, were also arrested in connection with the what is being called the “RedHack affair.”
Since a coup attempt last summer, Turkish authorities have detained thousands of people, including journalists, academics and suspected sympathizers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup. Independent or government-critical media outlets have been shut down or taken over by the government.
German journalists’ union DJV said Mr. Yücel’s arrest showed that Mr. Erdogan was “trying to misuse the state of emergency to make critical reporting impossible.” They called on Berlin to use diplomatic contacts to protect Mr. Yücel.
But a crucial factor could complicate Mr. Yücel’s situation further: Since he also has a Turkish passport, authorities may regard him as a local journalist and treat him accordingly. Foreign reporters have so far enjoyed more liberties in Turkey than local journalists.
Mr. Yücel had previously been briefly jailed in June 2015 in Sanliurfa, a city in southern Turkey, after posing critical questions to the local governor, according to a report in German newspaper Die Tageszeitung.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there were 81 journalists in Turkish prisons as of December 1. Other reports have put the figure as high as 120.