Germany demands Turkey release jailed reporter in 'big test' for ties

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A German-Turkish journalist whose arrest in Turkey has jolted relations between Ankara and Berlin is doing well in prison but Germany is pushing for his release, German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth said after consular officials visited him.

German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth holds a news conference at the consulate after visiting Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel at Silivri prison in Istanbul, Turkey, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Turkish authorities arrested Deniz Yucel, who holds both German and Turkish citizenship, in February on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting public violence. Yucel denies the charges.

Describing the case as “one of the big tests of German-Turkish relations”, Roth spoke to reporters after talking to a lawyer from the German consulate who had visited Yucel in prison in Istanbul on Tuesday.

“Mr Yucel is, given the circumstances, doing well. What remains a burden for him is the solitary confinement,” said Roth, who thanked Turkish authorities for allowing consular officials to meet Yucel after they had denied access for weeks.

“But this can’t be the end for us,” Roth added. “We are still pushing for the release of Deniz Yucel.”

Yucel faces up to 10-1/2 years in jail if convicted.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have been further strained following bans on planned rallies by Turkish ministers in Germany to drum up support for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan ahead of an April 16 referendum on boosting his powers.

Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, in campaigning for the referendum, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad.

Stressing that Nazi comparisons were unacceptable, Roth underlined the importance Berlin attaches to the Yucel case.

“This is one of the big tests of German-Turkish relations, and I can only hope that we come to a satisfactory solution soon,” Roth said.

Yucel, a journalist with German daily Die Welt, is the first German reporter to be held in a widespread crackdown that has followed the failed July 15 coup in Turkey and frequently targeted the media.

More than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended from Turkey’s police, military, civil service and private sector since the failed coup and tens of thousands arrested. Ankara says the measures are necessary given the security threats it faces.

Roth said Germany wanted to restore its relationship with Turkey to one marked by trust and cooperation, adding: “At the moment we are going through a stormy period but we are not going to be deterred from talking and keeping up ties.”

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Stephen Powell