Nightmare in Turkey EU Officials Criticize German Teen's Imprisonment

German teenager Marco Weiss has spent seven months in a Turkish prison for allegedly molesting an underage British girl. His family and, reportedly, the German government are planning to take Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights if his trial is not completed soon.

Lawyers for a German teenager who has spent the last seven months in a Turkish prison say they are planning to submit a case to the European Court of Human Rights if no decision is made at his next court hearing about his release.

Marco Weiss has been held without trial since April after being accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old British girl while on vacation in Antalya with his family. His next court appearance in the case is slated for Dec. 14 -- and the continuous delays have prompted escalated protests from politicians across Europe.

According to the German mass daily Bild, the paper has obtained information that the German government might also sign on to the case and help pay for it. "Behind the scenes," the paper reported, the Chancellery and German ministries are "intensively" working on behalf of the 17-year-old.

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung also reported Thursday that the chairs of all fractions within the European Parliament, on the initiative of the Liberals, have called on EU Expansion Commissioner Olli Rehn to exert pressure on Ankara to ensure that Weiss is given a fair trial that follows internationally recognized rule of law. Turkey is an official candidate for membership in the EU.

"It doesn't matter if Marco is guilty or not," Silvana Koch-Mehrin, vice-chairwoman of the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe and a member of the European Parliament from the Free Democratic Party (FDP) told the paper. "For a youth to be held on a charge of statutory rape for seven months without a trial violates all constitutional principals of the EU."

Politicians in Germany have been highly critical of Weiss's imprisonment, and German media reports have called the conditions in which Weiss is being held inhumane. In August, Weiss's lawyer said that his stay in jail had had a noticeable, perhaps permanent negative affect on him.

"It is unacceptable that a young person is suffering because of the sloppiness of public authorities, that the most precious time in his life is being taken away, his youth," FDP General Secretary Dirk Niebel told Bild.

Meanwhile, the Green Party's parliamentary whip, Volker Beck stated in the same paper that "the delays in the trial are unacceptable to me. I appeal to the Turkish justice authorities to delay no further in releasing Marco from custody, even if it imposes conditions."

Some went further, saying the case suggested Turkey isn't ready to join the exclusive EU club. Markus Söder, who represents the German state of Bavaria as its European Minister in Brussels, said the trial must be "brought to a constitutionally fair conclusion. There needs to be a quick decision." He added that the case would reinforce opposition to Turkey's EU membership within his party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union.

However, not all German politicians see Weiss's plight as evidence that Turkey is unqualified for EU membership. Cem Özdemir, a Green Party member of the European Parliament and a German politician of Turkish descent, condemned Weiss's pre-trial imprisonment months ago. But this week he warned conservative politicians not to misuse the case in a campaign against Turkey's EU candidacy. "They simply use everything that serves their goal of keeping Turkey out of the EU," Özdemir told the daily Berliner Zeitung on Thursday. "We can not forget that a 13-year-old girl may have been abused. That's an accusation that would also be taken very seriously by us (in Europe)."

Weiss stands accused of having sexually abused the girl, Charlotte, in a hotel room in the Turkish resort Side. The high school student, from the town of Uelzen in the western German state of Lower Saxony, has denied the charge, saying instead it was a consensual act of tenderness. So far, no official Turkish translation of Charlotte's testimony has been presented in the Antalya court.

If convicted, Weiss could face a prison sentence of between five and 15 years.

pmm/ap/dpa

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