BERLIN: A mid rising anti-Turkish rhetoric in Germany ahead of Sunday’s elections, Daily Sabah’s sister newspaper Sabah faced an unprecedented tax fine. Sabah claimed in a report that the fine was in retaliation of the newspaper’s critical coverage of Germany’s tolerance for the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which Ankara blames for last year’s coup attempt in Turkey. The tax authority in Frankfurt, where the offices of Sabah’s Europe edition are located, issued a warning to the newspaper to pay 664,693 euros ($795,139) in taxes and threatened to close down the newspaper if not paid. The newspaper’s Europe edition, Sabah Avrupa, is facing this large fine and threats for the first time since it was launched in the early 1990s. A Turkish minister, lawmakers and nongovernmental organizations in Turkey denounced the fine in interviews with Sabah. Speaking to Hazal Ateş from the daily, Finance Minister Naci Ağbal said the newspaper was never subjected to such tax fines before, and the fine is “politically motivated,” noting that it is coming ahead of an election. “This is an approach inappropriate for a state bound by the rule of law. It is an attack on press freedom,” Ağbal said. He added that it countered tax justice, and Ankara expects the German government to issue an explanation on the matter. “Otherwise, it will further drive doubts on the existence of press freedom in Germany,” he claimed.
Ekrem Kızıltaş, head of the non-profit Media Association of journalists, told Sabah that Germany “used to use journalists to write articles in favor of the country’s policies” and is “now upset about the newspaper serving the national interests of Turkey.” Kızıltaş also asserted the fine was “illegal and biased.” Bülent Turan, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), claimed Germany, which portrays itself as a country of democracy and freedoms, has become a home for authoritarianism and pressure. “Terrorist groups are free to operate in Germany, but Turkish media outlets reporting the facts are restricted. They reveal their true face when it comes to Turkey. They let terrorists, like [senior PKK figure] Murat Karayılan, address crowds via video link, but they punish the Turkish media. Germany systemically imposes pressure on the Turkish media. They should abandon this hostile attitude toward Turkey,” he said. Sabah Avrupa has been at the forefront in the Turkish government’s effort to raise awareness of the dangers FETÖ poses to other countries and uncover its network of members. It repeatedly called Berlin to take action against the terrorist group posing as a network of non-profit organizations. As it ramped up its anti-FETÖ coverage in the wake of the coup attempt that killed 249 people on July 15, 2016, the newspaper has faced lawsuits by suspected FETÖ-linked individuals and organizations in Germany.
Ankara is singling out Germany among European countries for embracing some 250 fugitive diplomats and soldiers accused of involvement in the coup. Ankara has vowed to bring all FETÖ suspects to justice in the aftermath of the coup attempt that laid bare just how desperate the terrorist group was to seize power in the face of a government crackdown. In May, Ankara condemned Berlin’s decision to accept asylum applications from former military personnel with suspected links to the terrorist group. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said Germany has shown disregard for democratic principles by welcoming coup perpetrators, having “regretfully condemned” Berlin’s decision to grant the asylum requests of Gülenists fleeing the country. Turkey’s efforts to bring Gülenists and other terrorist suspects to justice irritated Germany where politicians were recently united in their discourse against Ankara under the pretext of “Turkey’s violation of human rights.”