If Angela Merkel is the last hope for level-headed compromise and basic humanity, now would be a good time to show it. Turkey’s President Erdogan has given her a good opportunity by allowing his judiciary to imprison a German journalist, Die Welt‘s Deniz Yücel, on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda.
That’s now the standard charge for writers in Turkey, a country that is officially the world leader in imprisoning journalists. It carries a maximum penalty of 10 and a half years, but the pre-trial detention that Yücel is currently facing can last years on its own. Other journalist-prisoners in Turkey’s re-imagination of Kafka have found that the lack of evidence is now used as a reason to extend the imprisonment – “Wait there while we look … no, still haven’t found any reason to imprison you … you’ll have to keep waiting.”
There have been mass protests across Germany and the German media. All the political parties are united in a state of righteous outrage. Merkel, meanwhile, has been “disappointed.” She’s not actually angry – I guess there are too many refugees that Erdogan needs to keep out for her or something – and she’s not quite disappointed enough to threaten sanctions.
Luckily Germany’s dignity has been protected by the health and safety rules in the foolishly-named town of Gaggenau, Baden-Württemberg, where a planned appearance by Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag (who wanted to use a local hall to campaign to give his boss even more authoritarian power in an upcoming referendum) was cancelled at short notice because the car park wasn’t big enough.
Bozdag immediately began hectoring Merkel about democracy and cancelled a meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, meanwhile back in Ankara the German ambassador was “summoned” to sit on the naughty step.
For his part, the Gaggenau mayor insisted that the decision was not political, but totally “organisational” – and just as Ankara insists on the independence of its judiciary, Berlin will just have to insist on the independence of its health and safety rules. For now, it’s time to #FreeDeniz.