It has already come to this: The German government and NGOs warn against traveling to Turkey if the traveller made critical comments about the government there. The reason for this warning, for example from the German Journalists’ Association (DJV), is the arrest of the German MP Gökay Akbulut in Turkey last month. “The arrest of a German citizen solely because of public expressions of opinion is unacceptable for Germany,” said CDU MP Wadephul. “The federal government must make this unmistakably clear to the Turkish government.” Green MP Max Lucks, chairman of the German-Turkish parliamentary group in the Bundestag, said he knew the left-wing politician “as an upstanding democrat”. He promised her his “full solidarity and support” after learning about the incident. The “short-term detention” of Akbulut despite her diplomatic passport was “an unexcusable ballast for German-Turkish friendship.”
Akbulut found out when she entered Turkey that there was an arrest warrant against her. The politician from the “Die Linke” party was then held for several hours, even after she had identified herself as a member of the Bundestag. According to her own statements, she was accused of “terrorist propaganda”. This apparently involved posts on social media as well as political statements and speeches about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the situation of the Kurds. In 2019, for example, she criticized a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria when the army attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces, which were dominated by Kurdish militias. The police took the German MP to the police station and told her she would be brought before a judge. Akbulut immediately informed a lawyer and urgently asked the German embassy in Ankara for help. Discussions took place between the two countries at the highest level. A few hours later, Akbulut was told her file had been cleared and she could leave. She left the country immediately.
Such an arrest is not a mistake, it is part of an intimidation tactic. The expectation is that other opponents of the regime will find out about the case and ask themselves in fear – and remain silent: “If they treat a woman who enjoys immunity like this, what will they do to us?”. This will also ensure that Erdogan’s long arm extends beyond Turkey’s borders. This is intended to prevent criticism of him even in Germany.
Erdogan has long been using this method to expand his sphere of influence. Five years ago, his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: “Fugitive opponents of the regime will feel the Turkish state breathing down their necks, even in the countries to which they have gone.” After the recent elections, Kalin took over as head of the secret service. His predecessor there, Hakan Fidan, moved to the head of the Foreign Ministry at the same time in June. The journalist Barçin Yinanç recently described in an article how the new minister is transforming the Foreign Ministry into a kind of intelligence service: Fidan has filled key positions in the ministry with his secret service cadres, he had the WLAN in the office switched off and restricted the internal distribution of protocols.
Wadephul from the conservative German CDU, not normally a party that shares the Left Party’s positions, believes Akbulut’s call for lifting the PKK ban is neither right nor necessary. But he also says that Germans are allowed to criticize this, “especially as parliamentarians.” With a view to Turkey’s renewed aspirations for early membership in the European Union, the politician says: “A Turkey that repeatedly claims that it wants to enter the EU as quickly as possible cannot afford such violations of European constitutional standards.”
The German-Turkish Parliamentary Group is planning a trip to Turkey next month. However, the chairman emphasizes that this will only take place with Akbulut. “We will certainly not make a delegation from the Bundestag dependent on autocrats and a politically exploited judiciary.” If the trip takes place, the group will also address the “fear of many German citizens of being arrested if they enter the country for political reasons.”
The Foreign Office warns on its website that German citizens can be arbitrarily arrested, prevented from entering Turkey or banned from leaving the country. Especially due to the broad definition of terrorism in Turkey, “simply sharing, commenting or liking posts on social media” can be sufficient for criminal prosecution. The authorities often rely on support for or propaganda for organizations classified as terrorist. These include, among others, the so-called “Islamic State” or the PKK.
According to the German government, Germans have been refused entry to Turkey in 51 cases since July 2022. At that time, 64 German citizens were banned from leaving the country. 18 of the 39 exit bans imposed last year were based on allegations of propaganda for a terrorist organization, membership in or support for one.
The German Association of Journalists (DJV) has advised journalists and media professionals against traveling to Turkey for both professional and private purposes. The temporary arrest of Gökay Akbulut upon her entry into Turkey shows “once again that the Erdogan autocracy sees its critics as militant enemies of the state and persecutes them when it has the opportunity to do so,” said DJV chairman Frank Überall. If even the parliamentary immunity of a member of parliament does not protect against arrest, the danger for journalists is even greater. “Anyone who as a journalist has ever made critical comments about Turkey, its president or the ruling AKP party in their own posts and on social networks should stay away from the country.” Anything else is an incalculable risk.
If Gökay Akbulut was not a member of the Bundestag and the German embassy had not intervened at the highest level, she would probably be in a Turkish prison for a very long time.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research Center.