German Journalist Freed in Turkey in Signal of Thaw in Relations

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey released a German journalist after a year in custody, signaling a potential thaw in relations between two key trade partners.

Deniz Yucel’s release from an Istanbul jail was announced a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim met in Berlin to discuss the case, which the German leader said was burdening ties with Turkey. Yucel’s freedom has been a cause celebre in Germany amid Turkey’s strained relations with Europe after a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

German Journalist Freed in Turkey in Signal of Thaw in Relations

“I’m very happy about this decision by Turkish judicial authorities,” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s acting foreign minister, said in a statement. “This is a good day for us all.”

There was “no dirty deal” with Turkey that led to the release on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said in Berlin in response to a reporter’s question. Yucel’s release had “special meaning” in the context of strains in German-Turkish relations, he said.

Germany is Turkey’s largest economic partner by far, accounting for more than $36 billion in bilateral trade last year. Europe’s biggest economy also is home to several million residents of Turkish descent.

Terrorism Charges

German-born Yucel, who works for Berlin-based Die Welt newspaper, was perhaps the most prominent symbol of tension between the two countries over the past two years. Conflict also developed over Turkey’s refusal to let German lawmakers visit troops based in Incirlik air base in Turkey and campaigning by Turkish politicians on German soil.

Turkish authorities charged Yucel, 44, with terrorist propaganda. Faced with German calls for his release, Erdogan said last April that he wouldn’t be returned to Germany “as long as I’m in this office, never.”

“We have images and everything in our hands. He’s a terrorist agent,” Erdogan said at the time.

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