German journalist stands trial in Turkey on terror charges

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ISTANBUL – A German journalist who was arrested in Turkey denied terror-related accusations as a trial against her opened in a Turkish court Wednesday.

Mesale Tolu, a German citizen with Turkish roots, stands accused of engaging in terrorist propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party.

The 33-year-old was on trial at a courthouse in the outskirts of Istanbul together with 18 other defendants. She was the first of 11 German or German-Turkish citizens arrested in Turkey over the past year to go on trial. Berlin considers them to be "political prisoners."

Dozens of reporters, including several foreign journalists, have been jailed in Turkey following last year's failed coup.

The case against Tolu and other German citizens are among issues that have soured relations between Turkey and Germany in recent months.

Tolu's lawyer told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle the prosecutors considered her attendance at the funerals of several members of the outlawed group as evidence of her membership.

In her testimony on Wednesday, Tolu rejected the accusations and said she attended the funerals "out of conscience."

She also said her trial was an attack on the press in Turkey, and appealed for sympathy for her three-year-old son, who has spent the past five months in prison with her.

Before her arrest in May, Tolu worked as a translator and journalist for the Turkish ETHA news agency.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told daily newspaper Bild that Germany is following Tolu's trial very closely.

"We demand a fair trial based on the rule of law," he said. "Most of all, it has to be fast so that Mesale Tolu will be released as soon as possible and can come back to Germany."

Gabriel also said that Tolu's case touches him on a personal level, "because her little child is directly affected by the imprisonment."

He vowed that the German government would continue to do everything to stand behind her.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told reporters in Berlin that a member of the German embassy's legal department was inside the court and monitoring the trial.

Tolu was last visited by members of the German embassy on Monday, who found she was "doing fine," the spokeswoman added.

Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist for German newspaper Die Welt was arrested Feb. 14. Turkish authorities accuse him of disseminating terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred, as well as espionage. Yucel denies the allegations.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Turkish court convicted its reporter Ayla Albayrak of engaging in terror propaganda for an article she wrote and sentenced her to two years and one month in prison. Albayrak, who is in New York and convicted in absentia, will appeal her conviction.

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Joseph Ataman in Istanbul and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed.

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