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Journalist calling for press freedom ejected from Berlin news conference

A man calling for freedom of the press and the release of journalists held in Turkey was removed by security...

Posted: Sep 29, 2018 8:13 AM
Updated: Sep 29, 2018 8:13 AM

A man calling for freedom of the press and the release of journalists held in Turkey was removed by security from a news conference between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday.

He was later identified as Turkish journalist and general secretary of the European Turkish Journalists' Association Adil Yigit, who lives in Germany and is a staunch critic of Erdogan.

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The news conference, held on the second day of a controversial state visit by the Turkish leader, was well underway when Yigit, sitting on one of the front rows with a camera, was marched out of the room by two men, revealing a T-shirt reading "freedom for journalists" and "freedom of the press for journalists in Turkey."

Dozens of journalists, including foreign reporters, have been imprisoned without trial in Turkey on terror charges since a failed coup attempt in 2016, according to reports. Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

In footage of Friday's incident posted by Juergen Kloeckner, parliamentary correspondent for the Huffington Post in Germany, Yigit can be heard saying in German, "I haven't done anything. What's wrong?"

Shortly afterward, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert defended the decision to remove Yigit.

Regardless of "whether it is a legitimate concern or not," the government does not tolerate any demonstrations of a political nature at press conferences held in the Chancellery or the German parliament, he said on Twitter.

RELATED: Opinion - Erdogan will live to regret attacking Germany

Second journalist avoids press event, fearing 'diplomatic crisis'

Yigit's protest was not the first incident to disrupt Erdogan's visit to Germany, which began Thursday.

Rumors were circulating Friday morning that Erdogan was threatening to boycott the news conference if Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, a Turkish news outlet critical of Erdogan, were to attend as planned.

In a statement, Dundar later confirmed the rumors and announced his decision not to attend, citing concerns that his presence could trigger a "diplomatic crisis."

In 2016, Dundar was convicted in a Turkish court of obtaining and revealing state secrets. He was sentenced to almost six years in prison, but left Turkey for Germany, where he now works as a journalist.

Responding to a question about Dundar from a journalist at the news conference, Merkel confirmed that Dundar had received accreditation for the event and that he had made the decision not to attend "by himself."

"I can confirm that there are different opinions about him and his case between the President of Turkey and me," Merkel added.

That difference of opinion was made clear by Erdogan, who described Dundar as an "agent who has revealed state secrets to the public" and "who should be in prison." He criticized Germany's decision not to extradite Dundar, saying, "There are no excuses. I would certainly hand over such an individual."

Discontent at Erdogan visit

Erdogan also used Friday's news conference to call for the German authorities to extradite all members of the Kurdish PKK and the Gulen movement -- both considered terrorist organizations by Turkey -- currently in Germany. For her part, Merkel called for Turkey to quickly resolve the cases of five German citizens currently held in the country on political charges.

The German Chancellor also made clear that while the two countries had moved closer together on some issues, the relationship "has seen some profound differences which still exist today," adding that these were mostly related to "questions of the rule of law (and) freedom of the media."

Many Germans are unhappy about the official visit by Erdogan, who was hosted by the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and welcomed with military honors Friday morning, and was due to attend a state banquet Friday evening.

Relations between the countries, which have traditionally been strong allies, have soured in recent years in part due to Erdogan's harsh crackdown on opponents following the attempted coup in 2016 and the imprisonment of a number of German citizens on political charges.

Diplomatic relations have improved in the past few months, but have not yet normalized and many Germans are angry about the decision to grant Erdogan a state visit.

Discontent was apparent as soon as Erdogan arrived in the country. Landing at Berlin's Tegel airport around lunchtime on Thursday, the Turkish President was greeted by supporters of the German branch of Reporters Without Borders, brandishing signs calling for freedom of the press in Turkey and accompanied by a van showing the message, "Mr. Erdogan lands in Berlin, journalists land in prison."

On Friday, hundreds of protesters gathered in Berlin, holding signs calling for an "end to German support for Erdogan" and urging the people of Turkey to "reject this would-be dictator," referring to the Turkish President.

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