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Turkish court rules to jail German citizen on terrorism charges

A Turkish court on Friday sentenced a German man, identified as Patrick K., to six years and three months in prison for membership of a terrorist organization. In addition, he received a further suspended sentence of one year and eight months in jail for entering a military exclusion zone, according to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW).

His family claimed German national Patrick K. was on a hiking holiday. However, the Turkish government said he was fighting for the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militia. Since last year, a number of German citizens have been detained in Turkey, putting serious strain on relations between Berlin and Ankara.

According to the report by DW, Patrick K. was detained near the Turkish-Syrian border on March 14, 2018. Turkish authorities charged him with being a member of the YPG, which Turkey classifies as a terrorist group along with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Local authorities also reportedly said that Patrick K. confessed to wanting to join PYD/YPG and that he’d served for several years in the German military. However, Turkish officials have not revealed the circumstances under which Patrick K. confessed nor have they said if an independent interpreter present.

His family said that the 29-year-old was in the area to go hiking. At the time of his arrest, the Bundeswehr told DW that Patrick K. was never a member of the German military. The court hearing on Friday lasted under an hour, according to Patrick K.’s lawyer. His trial only began three weeks ago.

Turkish authorities claim to have found an e-mail that Patrick K. sent to the YPG, the armed faction of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), according to German public broadcaster ARD, citing the Turkish indictment. In the e-mail he allegedly offered to fight for the group in exchange for help. A witness claimed to have seen Patrick K. in a YPG uniform working as a doctor at a hospital in Syria in January this year. There was no evidence in the indictment, however, that shows that Patrick K. traveled to Syria.

The 29-year-old’s family back in Germany were shocked by the prison sentence, maintaining that the charges against him were baseless. “Patrick was convicted for nothing, that was an awful surprise,” one of his friends told news agency DPA.

Ahead of Friday’s court decision, Patrick K.’s mother told DPA that she was concerned for her son’s health, saying that he’s currently suffering from an ear infection and has lost three teeth. He’s been detained for the last seven months in a prison in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ.

Patrick K.’s lawyer, Hüseyin Bilgi said his client was “very sad” about the sentence. Patrick K. is planning on appealing the Turkish court’s sentence, his lawyer said.

A German foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed to Reuters news agency that Patrick K. had been sentenced.

The verdict coincided with German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier’s two-day visit to Turkey. Altmaier underscored Berlin’s commitment to “compliance with human rights and press freedom,” but shied away from directly calling out the Turkish government. During talks in Ankara on Friday, Altmaier said that he wants to discuss Patrick K.’s case in sideline discussions with Turkish officials.

In the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government jailed thousands of people under sweeping anti-terror laws. Several dual German-Turkish nationals were also detained, including Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel, human rights activist Peter Steudtner, as well as journalist  Meşale Tolu.

Many have since been released from prison in Turkey, but still face charges there. At least five German nationals are still detained in Turkey on what Berlin describes as “political reasons.”