January 15, 2015

EP political groups urge Turkey to release journalists

The main political groups in the European Parliament (EP) have called on the Turkish government to release journalists ahead of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's visit to Brussels on Jan. 15, when the parliament will also vote on a resolution regarding media freedom in Turkey.

A government-backed operation against independent media outlets that took place on Dec.14 last year resulted in the detention of dozens of individuals, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Samanyolu TV network top executive Hidayet Karaca, scriptwriters, producers and directors, and caught the attention of the European Union. After discussing these events at a meeting in December, major political groups in the EP agreed to make a joint decision regarding the issue on Jan. 15.

Draft texts were made by the major groups in the EP so that they would have a unified stance either condemning or deploring the Dec. 14 operation.

The Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) expressed concern over the backsliding in democratic reforms in Turkey in their draft text, underlining the Turkish government's diminishing tolerance of public protests and critical media during a recent plenary session held at the EP.

“The recent police raids and the detention of a number of journalists are very troubling developments,” Kati Piri, the EP's new rapporteur to Turkey, said on behalf of the S&D group.

Mentioning that freedom of speech and media pluralism are at the heart of European values, the text underlined that an independent press is crucial to a democratic society, as it enables citizens to take an active part in the collective decision-making processes on an informed basis and therefore strengthens democracy.

The S&D group added in the text that the recent developments curtailing freedom of media and expression highlight the need for a stronger engagement between Turkey and the EU, particularly on the rule of law and fundamental rights reforms.

President of the Greens in the EP, Rebecca Harms, quoted their draft text, saying the arrests appear to be part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ongoing conflict with the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, and comes one year after police and prosecutors targeted members of Erdoğan's government on corruption charges.

Touching on the Dutch correspondent, Frederike Geerdink, who was recently arrested, interrogated by the police and released in Diyarbakır, Harms said the arrest of foreign journalists shows the pressure present on the media in Turkey.

The draft text of the Greens also calls on the EU authorities to step up the pressure on Turkey in the areas of justice, the rule of law and human rights, since these elements are crucial to the accession process and should be prioritized over single market issues. The group also believes the opening of negotiations on Chapters 23 and 24 on judicial reforms and fundamental rights would help in concrete terms.

In the meantime, several prominent columnists from major European newspapers have criticized the presence of Prime Minister Davutoğlu at a march commemorating those killed during last week's attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, citing Turkey's worsening track record in terms of press freedom.

John Lichfield, a columnist for The Independent, wrote in an article on Sunday that, “the presence of leaders of countries known for repressing freedom of speech caused consternation among left-wing commentators and human rights groups in France.”

Lichfield stated that Turkey came 154th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2014, coming behind Russia, Gabon and Hungary, and pointing out that the government in Turkey has recently engaged in a sweeping campaign of arrests of critical and independent-minded journalists.

The article, titled “Paris march: Political divide exposed as politicians who repress freedom of speech join rally,” spoke about Prime Minister Davutoğlu as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Ali Bongo of Gabon as leaders deemed to repress freedom of speech and media independence in their countries.

Another article critical of Davutoğlu's visit to the Charlie Hebdo demonstration, in the French daily Le Monde, also listed the Turkish prime minister as one of the leaders of the states it considered to be doing very badly in terms of media freedoms and freedom of speech.

The article in Le Monde stated that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently came under the spotlight for a massive wave of arrests against media which are in opposition to his government, citing the operations made against the Zaman daily and the Samanyolu Broadcasting group.

Le Monde reporter Marion Van Renterghem took to her Twitter account to criticize the leadership turnout at the march by writing: “Netanyahu, Lavrov, Orban, Davutoğlu, Bongo at the press freedom demo. Why not [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad?”

Published on Today's Zaman, 14 January 2015, Wednesday