BERLIN — The partners of two human rights activists jailed in Turkey appealed for their release on Wednesday, rejecting the terrorism accusations against the men as the German and Swedish governments protested to Turkey against their imprisonment.
Peter Steudtner of Germany and Ali Gharavi of Sweden were arrested July 5 during a raid on a Turkish hotel where they were teaching a digital security workshop. They were among six activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, who were then jailed last week for allegedly aiding an unspecified armed terror group.
“We want them out,” Laressa Dickey, the wife of Gharavi, told The Associated Press in Berlin. She was accompanied by Steudtner’s partner, Magdalena Freudenschuss, who said she didn’t understand why the men were charged with terrorism.
“They are very caring people who help others. Not knowing when Ali and Peter will be released scares us and makes us angry,” Freudenschuss said.
They said they are not allowed to talk to the men, who are sharing a room in Maltepe prison in Istanbul. However, they can send them notes via their lawyers and said that considering the circumstances, the jailed activists are doing OK.
Steudtner, his partner and their two children are based in Berlin, while Gharavi and Dickey, who is American, divide their time between Berlin and Kalmar, Sweden.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters that Germany and Sweden made a joint complaint to Turkey on Wednesday, saying that the two governments don’t understand why the men were jailed and “expect that they at least now be told in substantiated terms what they are accused of.”
Gharavi, 50, and Steudtner, 45, both have been accused of aiding an armed terrorist group, without further details. Steudtner has also been called a spy by the Turkish side.
Both women rejected the accusations sharply. They said their partners had given the workshop on digital security several times together in different places.
Steudtner’s imprisonment has sent already strained German-Turkish ties to a new low. The German government last week told citizens to exercise caution when traveling to Turkey and threatened to withhold backing for investments there.
German-Turkish relations had been souring for over a year, particularly since last July’s coup attempt in Turkey. Twenty-two German citizens have been taken into custody in the ensuing crackdown. Nine are currently in jail, including Steudtner and journalists Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that his country would continue “to breathe down the neck of agents who run around freely” in Turkey.
The activists were teaching a five-day digital security workshop for fellow rights campaigners at a hotel on the island of Buyukada, off Istanbul when police raided the site and detained them.
Dickey said that her husband initially wasn’t getting the medical care he needed, and was also suffering from anxiety. But he was better since he was taken to a different prison. She didn’t elaborate on his medical needs.
Freudenschuss said she has been getting support from friends and the Berlin church community that Steudtner is active in. She has been asking herself constantly since the arrest: “When is this going to be over?”
Berlin’s Gethsemane Church has started holding a daily prayer service every night in support of Steudtner and the other men who are still in jail.
Both women would like to visit the men in Turkey, but said the German and American embassies in Turkey were still assessing whether it is safe enough for them to travel there.
Freudenschuss and Dickey vowed to continue fighting for the pair’s release.
“We’re channeling our anger into the determination to get them out,” Dickey said.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.