Given the present state of human rights in Turkey, the German government has come in for criticism over the elaborate plans for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey’s upcoming visit on September 28 and 29, including a state banquet. But President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel should use the opportunity to raise numerous human rights concerns, most pressingly the plight of the many journalists, human rights defenders and politicians arbitrarily jailed in Turkey.
One of them is the well-known novelist and political commentator Ahmet Altan, whose newest book was published in German this week. Its German title is “Ich werde die Welt nie wiedersehen: Texte aus dem Gefaengnis” — “I will never see the world again: writings from prison.”
Altan, in prison for over two years, was among the first writers in Turkey to be sentenced to life without parole on the allegation that he encouraged the abortive coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. The evidence against him? His commentary and writings critical of the government, which have never advocated violence, insurrection or any criminal act, and witnesses who signed incriminating statements against him but were never even heard in court.
Human Rights Watch regards the case as entirely politically motivated and the charges without merit. Altan and other defendants in the same trial should be freed and their charges dropped. The verdict of the appeal in their case Is scheduled for October 2. Another jailed defendant in the same trial, also sentenced to life in prison, is 74-year-old veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak. Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan’s brother, was given the same sentence but remains at liberty.
Both President Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel have the opportunity to convey a clear message that it is not only German nationals in prison who matter but also the fate of many of Turkey’s own citizens who are arbitrarily detained on politically motivated charges.
An improvement in German-Turkish relations should require their release from prison and an end to the Turkish authorities’ systematic violation of basic human rights.
Germany should call for steps by Turkey to disprove Ahmet Altan’s words “ich werde die Welt nie wiedersehen.”