Following arrests in Turkey

Reorientation of policy towards Turkey

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel has announced a change of course in Germany’s policy on Turkey. Travel advice issued for Turkey will be modified accordingly, he said in Berlin. The German government will also be reviewing its position on Hermes export credit guarantees for business with Turkey.

A demonstrator holds high a sign that reads "Turkey: Freedom of expression is a human right!'

German-Turkish relations have recently been severely strained

Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Armer

In response to the arrest of the German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and several others, the German government intends to reorient its policies towards Turkey. The German government will, for instance, be changing the advice it offers to German citizens travelling to Turkey, announced Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in a statement to the press in Berlin. It will also be re-examining its position on Hermes export credit guarantees issued by the government to cover business conducted by German companies in Turkey.

This change of course has been agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the Federal Foreign Minister. "The steps announced by the Federal Foreign Minister vis à vis Turkey are both necessary and indispensable in view of recent developments," stressed federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert on Twitter.

The Head of the Federal Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, has not ruled out the possibility of further measures being taken in the government’s policies towards Turkey. "At the given time we will check whether additional decisions need to be taken, and where this is the case we will announce these publicly where appropriate," said Peter Altmaier on Friday (21 July) on the German public broadcaster’s breakfast programme " ZDF-Morgenmagazin".

Consular access is not being granted automatically

Peter Steudtner is only one of 22 German citizens who have been arrested since the attempted military coup thankfully failed, said Sigmar Gabriel. Nine of them have been remanded in custody. The German government considers their imprisonment to be unlawful. "We have had to fight for consular access in every case, although we are entitled to this access under international law," said the Federal Foreign Minister. Consular access has not been granted as a matter of course in any case.

Peter Steudtner was arrested by Turkish security forces on 5 July along with other Amnesty International activists. Since then he has been remanded in custody. He is accused of supporting an armed terrorist organisation. Deniz Yücel, Mesale Tolu and other German citizens are also in custody in Turkey on similar charges.

Relations under great strain

German-Turkish relations have been under a great strain in recent times, continued Sigmar Gabriel. In the past, however, Germany has been able to rely on a willingness to work together as partners in order to identify ways to resolve crises. Every effort has been made to exert a calming influence on rising tensions. Time and again, he said, Germany has trusted that reason will prevail once more.

"What is happening in Turkey is blatantly obvious, and we should not attempt to gloss over these things," said Sigmar Gabriel. The foundations of the rule of law and democracy that had been laid successfully in recent years are to be destroyed again. The cases of Peter Steudtner, Deniz Yücel and Mesale Tolu are examples of the far-fetched accusations of "terrorist propaganda".

Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel sees the following points as being important for the reorientation of the government’s policy on Turkey:
1. The German government cannot advise anyone to invest in a country in which there is no longer any legal certainty. The German government does not see how it can continue to guarantee German investments in Turkey. The future of Hermes export credit guarantees will have to be discussed for instance.
2. Discussions will also have to be held with European colleagues about how to deal with the EU’s pre-accession assistance to Turkey.
3. Travel and security advice for Turkey will have to be changed so that travellers are aware of what can happen to them.

Turkish Ambassador summoned

Earlier, the German government had already called on Turkey to release Peter Steudtner "immediately". His arrest is a serious and sad situation in German-Turkish relations, said federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert on Wednesday (19 July). At the government press conference he said that it is a very blatant attempt to "discredit and criminalise anyone whose opinions diverge from the official line".

Because of the arrest of the German national Peter Steudtner and five other human rights activists, the Turkish Ambassador was summoned to the Federal Foreign Office on Wednesday. Federal Foreign Office spokesperson Martin Schäfer said Turkey had to hear directly and unequivocally how outraged Germany is and that it has absolutely no understanding for the case of Peter Steudtner, and the crystal-clear message this entails.

The Turkish Ambassador was informed tersely and bluntly that the arrest of Mr Steudtner and other human rights activists was neither comprehensible nor acceptable, and under no circumstances could it be explained, Martin Schäfer continued. The German government demands the immediate release of Peter Steudtner. The Turkish Ambassador undertook to convey Germany’s views immediately to the Turkish government, reported the spokesperson.

Solidarity with all those detained

On Tuesday Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her "extreme concern" about events. The arrest of Peter Steudtner is completely unjustified, she said. "We, the German government, condemn his arrest, and declare our solidarity with him and all the others currently being held. The German government will do everything it can, at all levels, to secure his release."

This is unfortunately another case in which "innocent people" get caught up in the mills of the Turkish judiciary and end up in prison. The German government, she said, condemns the arrest of Peter Steudtner unequivocally and demands his immediate release.