Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has demanded the release of a German journalist arrested in Turkey amid calls for her government to block a visit by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the case.
The Turkish government summoned the German ambassador on Thursday to demand an explanation after appearances by two Turkish ministers in Turkey were prevented by local authorities amid widespread public anger at the arrest.
In a considerable hardening of her position, Mrs Merkel said Germany would do “everything in its power” to secure the release of Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for Welt newspaper held on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda”.
“Deniz Yücel, who is under arrest in Turkey and whose release we are demanding, is in our thoughts,” Mrs Merkel said.
“A free and independent press is part of democracy and must never be questioned,” she said, adding that Mr Yücel “did nothing but do his job”.
Hours later, local authorities in Cologne and Gaggenau, a small town in southern Germany, withdrew permission for political rallies at which two Turkish ministers were due to speak this week.
The event in Gaggenau, at which Bekir Bozdag, the Turkish justice minister was to appear, was called off just hours before it was due to start.
The local mayor said the event was cancelled because the venue was too small for expected crowds, while authorities in Cologne claimed the city hall had been double-booked.
But the cancellations came amid widespread calls for Mr Erdoğan and his ministers to be blocked from appearing in Germany as long as Mr Yücel remains under arrest.
The journalist, who has dual German and Turkish nationality, has rapidly become a cause celebre in Germany.
All eyes are now on whether a planned appearance by Mr Erdoğan himself will be allowed to go ahead.
The Turkish ministers were due to address rallies ahead of a referendum next month in which Mr Erdoğan is seeking wide-ranging new powers. Around 1.5m people in Germany hold Turkish citizenship and can vote in the referendum.
Mr Bozdag cancelled his visit to Germany and a planned meeting with his German counterpart.
“The fact that Germany, which at every opportunity speaks of freedom of expression has cancelled a meeting of the Turkish community is unacceptable,” he said. “How can we speak of democracy in a country that does not allow one meeting to take place?”
Mrs Merkel’s government was already facing criticism over its decision to allow the campaign appearances before Mr Yücel’s arrest.
Austria has announced it will not allow Turkish ministers to campaign on its territory, and critics have accused the German chancellor of failing to stand up to Mr Erdoğan for fear of jeopardising the EU’s migrant deal with Turkey.
But the arrest of Mr Yücel has galvanised popular feeling over the issue. Mrs Merkel’s latest comments were markedly different in tone from her initial reaction to the arrest, which she described as “disappointing”, and a clear reaction to public anger.
Mr Yücel was detained as part of a wider crackdown on journalists seen as critical of Mr Erdoğan. He has been officially charged over his coverage of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) but was also questioned over his reporting of a computer hacking attack on a minister who also happens to be Mr Erdoğan’s son-in-law.