BERLIN (Reuters) – Two German journalists left Turkey on Sunday after authorities there rejected their press accreditations, a step that drew condemnation from Germany’s foreign minister and revived diplomatic tensions.
The departure of Joerg Brase, a correspondent for ZDF television, and Thomas Seibert, who works for newspaper Tagesspiegel, came a day after Germany warned its citizens they risked arrest in Turkey for expressing views Ankara may not like.
“This is not acceptable to us,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said of the journalists being stripped of their credentials. “It has nothing to do with our understanding of press freedom,” he told broadcaster ARD.
ZDF confirmed Brase had arrived back in Germany on Sunday afternoon and Tagesspiegel said Seibert had also arrived back in Germany.
The increase in diplomatic tensions follows a period of relative calm since September last year, when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan came to Germany on a state visit aimed at repairing relations after bitter disputes.
Ankara has been smarting at what it sees as Europe’s slowness to condemn a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, while Germany and other EU countries are concerned about the mass arrests that followed, Turkey’s clampdown on press freedom and Erdogan’s influence over Turkish diaspora communities in Europe.
Before leaving Istanbul, Brase told ZDF: “The Turkish government has managed to more or less silence the national media. They are now trying to do it with international media. And we should not submit to that.”
Seibert added: “Turkey will not succeed in muffling our media. We will keep reporting about Turkey from wherever that might be.”
ZDF director Thomas Bellut said Brase had reported from Turkey factually and knowledgeably, adding: “ZDF will continue to report about this important country extensively, impartially, factually and critically.”
Maas also expressed alarm at comments made by a Turkish minister threatening those in Germany who supported the Kurdish PKK guerrilla group, fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey, while at home, then spent vacations in Turkey.
Both sides are eager to avoid a severe deterioration in ties with Turkey’s economy in crisis and Germany, home to 3 million people of Turkish origin, reliant on Turkey to help contain a Syrian migrant crisis beyond Europe’s borders.
In February last year, a Turkish court freed German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel pending trial after indicting him for alleged security offences – a move that helped ease tensions between the two NATO allies for a period.
Asked about the rejection of the accreditations on Friday, Turkish Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said Germany and Turkey could have disagreements but “these are not impossible to solve … What will remain is the Turkish-German friendship”.
(Reporting by Reuters TV and by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)