German-Turkish standoff flares up over arrest of writer

Turkey trying to extradite German-based Turkish writer critical of Erdogan’s regime

Berlin’s diplomatic standoff with Ankara threatens to flare up again in the middle of Germany’s federal election campaign, after a Cologne-based Turkish writer was arrested on holidays in Spain on foot of a Turkish arrest warrant.

On Sunday, a Spanish court ordered the release of Dogan Akhanli, a day after his arrest in Granada, following an intervention by German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Berlin was outraged at Turkey’s attempts to have Spain extradite Mr Akhanli, who has written critically about the Erdogan government, Turkey’s human rights record and official denial of the Armenian genocide that claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives.

“It would be terrible if . . . Turkey succeeded in having people who raise their voices against president Erdogan arrested,” said Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel. After contacting the Spanish government, Mr Gabriel said he had “the utmost confidence” that the Spanish government and its judiciary “knows what this is about”.


Accused of being a terrorist in his native Turkey, Mr Akhanli fled to Germany in 1991, where he was granted asylum as well as citizenship. He was arrested again in 2010 on a visit to Turkey, accused of involvement in an armed robbery-murder.

Failed coup

The case has stoked tensions between Turkey and Germany over the fallout from last year’s failed coup and the constitutional referendum that increased the powers of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Among the thousands of people Turkey has arrested are Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, the Istanbul correspondent of the Die Welt newspaper, who faces trial on terror charges.

Mr Akhanli said he was collected from his hotel room early on Saturday morning on foot of an Interpol red notice issued by Ankara in connection with a robbery-murder in 1989.

"That's all pulled out of thin air, Turkey wants to silence me," he told Spiegel Online. "I was cleared by a Turkish court but in 2013 that acquittal was set aside."

Ironic twist

Until Ankara files extradition documents in the next 40 days, the writer is obliged to stay in Madrid. He said he was optimistic Spain would not extradite him to a non-EU country. In an ironic twist, Mr Akhanli said the original state prosecutor in his Turkish trial has now applied for asylum in Germany.

“Turkey has accused him of being a member of a terrorist organisation,” he said. “Isn’t that absurd? Maybe I should meet him.”

On Saturday, Mr Erdogan hit out at Germany for its intervention in the case, saying Mr Gabriel “didn’t know his limits”.

“Who are you to talk like that to the Turkish president?” said Mr Erdogan, accusing Mr Gabriel of trying to “teach us a lesson. How long are you in politics, how old are you?”

Mr Gabriel is 57 and has been involved in politics for 40 years.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin