Thomas Seibert, a reporter for the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel daily, and Jörg Brase, a correspondent for public broadcaster ZDF, flew to Germany on Sunday after their accreditation to work in Turkey was not renewed.
They were told by the relevant authorities in Ankara about a week ago that their applications for new press cards had not been approved.
“[I] have not been given any reason why my application to extend my press credentials was denied,” Brase told DW. “Turkey also has a press law that I have not broken — at least as far as I am aware.”
Seibert said the decision to force them out of the country may not have even been because of anything they reported.
“I don’t think it’s about anything I have written,” Seibert told DW. “I think it’s a message to the Western press. They need a scapegoat or two or three, and I was one of the unlucky ones.”
Attempt to intimidate foreign media
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Saturday said on Twitter it was “unacceptable” that German correspondents could not do their jobs “freely” in Turkey. In an interview with Tagesspiegel, he said denying the journalists their right to report was “incompatible with our understanding of press freedom.”
Dass deutsche Korrespondenten ihrer Arbeit in der Türkei nicht frei nachgehen können, ist für uns inakzeptabel. Das weiß mein türkischer Kollege. Um auch das besprechen zu können, haben wir großes Interesse an einem funktionierenden Dialog mit der Türkei. https://t.co/Pe5ePfeMQj
— Heiko Maas (@HeikoMaas) March 9, 2019
At a press conference in the ZDF studio in Istanbul before their departure, both reporters criticized the actions of the Turkish government.
After seeing how they could control domestic media, authorities appear to be trying to intimidate foreign media as well, according to Brase.
“There is hardly any critical [domestic] reporting, at least not in state media,” Brase said. “Now they are trying it with international media, but I cannot imagine the plan will work.”
Brase said he was considering moving to Tehran since the Iranian government had given him the necessary paperwork to live there. He had been working in Turkey since January 2018.
ZDF is planning on taking legal action against the decision. Brase said he and Seibert want to continue reporting on Turkey, if necessary from abroad.
“If the Turkish government is hoping that by taking away my press card — basically throwing me out of Turkey — it will keep me from reporting, well that plan is not going to work,” Seibert told DW.
The relationship between Berlin and Ankara had been strained following the failed 2016 coup and the arrest by Turkish authorities of tens of thousands of people, including Germans.
However, after the release of German citizens including German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel and journalist Mesale Tolu, ties slightly improved.
On Saturday however, the German government tightened its travel advice for Turkey, referring to possible “further action against representatives of the German media and civil society institutions.”
Currently, about a dozen German correspondents and a number of other international journalists are still waiting for their new annual press accreditation more than two months after their old documents expired.
Good interview with @SPIEGELONLINE‘s @Maximilian_Popp on reporting in Turkey and the challenges faced by reporters (Turkish colleagues are much worse off !) Published by Diken , in Turkish.https://t.co/DGHjbLTAtV
— MLSA (@mlsaturkey) March 10, 2019
Press cards are considered work permits and the basis for issuing residence permits.
Media rights activists have criticized the denials and delays of the accreditation as a violation of the freedom of the press.
“You have to emphasize that what’s happening to us is the lap of luxury compared to what happens to our Turkish colleagues,” Siebert said before leaving Turkey. “More than 130 of them are sitting in prison for what they wrote or posted. Jörg and I, we’ll be sitting in a plane.”