BONN (Reuters)–German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel warned Turkey Wednesday that its ambitions to join the European Union would remain blocked unless it improved its human rights record.
"Turkey knows that the route to Europe only follows a significant improvement in the human rights situation there," Kinkel said in a statement after Tuesday’s sentencing to a jail term of human rights leader Akin Birdal.
The warning follows the sentencing by a Turkish court Tuesday of Birdal–head of leading rights group Human Rights Association (IHD)–to one year in jail.
The Anatolian news agency said the Ankara court found Birdal and six others guilty of "inciting hatred and division by showing differences of class–race and regional origin" in speeches made in 1996.
"With the basic right to freely express one’s opinion–the path (to Europe) remains barred," Kinkel added.
Germany–which has strong trading links with Turkey and a large Turkish population–on Monday strongly condemned the arrest of human rights activist Esber Yagmurdereli by Turkish police.
Turkey has jailed a blind 52-year-old human rights activist for up to 23 years for advocating a peaceful end to the country’s bloody Kurdish conflict–Anatolian news agency said.
The justice ministry sent Esber Yagmurdereli to Cankiri prison–60 miles northeast of the capital Ankara–the state-run agency said late on Tuesday.
Yagmurdereli was sentenced to 10 months in jail in September for a speech he made in 1991 calling for a peaceful end to the Kurdish conflict–now 13 years old.
The 10-month term was added to 22 years of an earlier suspended sentence that was automatically reactivated following his second conviction last month.
The Turkish foreign ministry on Wednesday dismissed the condemnation–saying the jail term was a decision of an independent judicial body–the agency said.
"It does not matter whether other authorities like it or not. No official body is in a position to comment about decisions of independent and free courts," the agency quoted ministry spokesman Omer Akbel as saying.
Turkish author Yasar Kemal–who received a prestigious German literary award earlier this week–said he would fight for the release of Yagmurdereli. "I will keep up my struggle for human rights and democracy in Turkey," the agency quoted him as saying.