BERLIN (Reuters) - A Turkish court freed German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel on Friday pending trial after indicting him for alleged security offences, in a move welcomed by Berlin and which could lead to an easing of tensions between the two NATO allies.
Germany has been pressing for months for the release of Yucel, detained since last February on suspicion of spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting violence. He denies the accusations.
After his release, Yucel headed straight to Germany. A Reuters photographer saw his plane taxiing after landing at Berlin’s Tegel airport. German ARD television reported that he had disembarked the aircraft.
“This is a good day. Deniz Yucel is free,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel earlier told reporters. “I can assure you there are no agreements, trade-offs, or deals in connection with this.”
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the court had accepted an indictment seeking up to 18 years in jail for Yucel but had also opted to free him ahead of trial.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the release, but she also called on Ankara to guarantee fast judicial proceedings for other German citizens still being held in Turkish custody.
“I’m pleased, just like many, many others, that he was able to leave jail today,” said Merkel, who on Thursday held talks in Berlin with Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Earlier this week Yildirim had raised the prospect of Yucel being freed.
“We know that there are also other cases of people, maybe not as prominent, who remain in custody, and also for them we hope that there will be fast and constitutional judicial proceedings,” Merkel told a news conference in Berlin.
There are currently five other German citizens who are being held in Turkish custody over alleged security offences.
Yucel’s newspaper, Die Welt, had earlier announced his release from custody, citing his lawyer.
“Finally! Best news ever. Deniz Yucel is free”, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a tweet.
German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told a regular news conference on Friday that Yucel’s release would be “an important first step” after massive diplomatic efforts.
Last month Turkey urged Germany, its biggest trading partner, to mend fences and they have since resumed bilateral government consultations suspended after Yucel’s arrest.
A foreign ministry spokesman cautioned that there were still contentious issues between Germany and Turkey, whose ties deteriorated sharply after Ankara’s crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in 2016.
In the indictment Yucel is accused of spreading propaganda in support of both Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric accused by Ankara of plotting the failed coup, and also of the outlawed PKK group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Turkey says its crackdown since the coup attempt – with the arrest of some 50,000 people - is needed for security reasons. It has criticised Germany for not handing over asylum seekers it accuses of involvement in the failed coup.
Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul, Paul Carrel in Berlin and Andrea Shalal in Munich; Editing by Gareth Jones and Raissa Kasolowsky