Turkish authorities will release from house arrest an Israeli man who was convicted of possession of and smuggling leaves from the illegal khat plant, according to a statement from Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.
The man is expected to soon be reunited with his family in Israel, Cohen said.
Cohen on Thursday offered his thanks on X, formerly known as Twitter, to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan for contributing to the release of Danny Awka.
שמח שלאחר התערבות של נשיא המדינה הרצוג, שלי ושל גורמים נוספים, דני אווקה, שנדון לעשר שנות מאסר, יחזור ב״ה בתחילת השבוע למשפחתו.
זהו חלק מהמאמצים הרבים שמדינת ישראל ושמשרד החוץ עושה למען אזרחי ישראל, ועדות להתחממות היחסים בין ישראל לטורקיה.
אני מודה לנשיא ארדואן ולשר החוץ פידאן… pic.twitter.com/t4yIIHPcce
— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) August 17, 2023
According to a report in The Times of Israel, Awka, 35, was arrested in Turkey in 2019 on suspicion of smuggling khat leaves through Turkey and was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In recent months, his mental state has deteriorated, prompting the personal intervention of Cohen and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
Awka served over three years in prison, including a transfer to another facility due to harassment by Syrian and Iranian inmates who discovered that he was Israeli. He was released into house arrest and moved to a halfway house 18 months ago to ease prison overcrowding but barred from leaving the country.
Khat is illegal for personal use under Turkish law and in many European and Western nations.
Awka said he was “tricked” into smuggling khat as the drug in its natural form is legal in Israel, but the distillation of the plant into its active chemical cathinone is illegal. Smugglers in Germany allegedly convinced Awka that khat was legal in Turkey and Europe, but both are untrue.
“I am happy that after the intervention of President Herzog, [Knesset member Pnina Tamano] Shata and other officials, Danny Awka, who was sentenced to ten years in prison, will return to his family at the beginning of the week,” Cohen tweeted.
He said the release of Awka was evidence of the warming relations between Israel and Turkey.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have improved over the past year following several high-level visits, including that of Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
In December 2021, an Israeli couple was held in Turkey for a week on suspicion of espionage after visiting the newly opened Çamlıca Tower, İstanbul’s tallest building, from where they took a photo of President Erdoğan’s home in Üsküdar.
The couple was released following intense diplomatic traffic between the two countries.