October 31, 2015

19 US Senators ask Kerry to urge Turkey for freer media, polls

19 United States senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, demanding him urge Turkey to improve media freedom and ensure the Sunday's parliamentary elections are free and fair.

18 Senators joined Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leading Democrat, as he initiated the letter to Kerry, expressing concerns about the Turkish government's approach towards press freedom ahead of Nov. 1 elections.

"With the elections fast approaching on Nov. 1, it is imperative that the Turkish government understand our position that freedom of the press is central to a full exercise of the democratic process," the senators wrote in the letter.

The letter was out for circulation to collect signatures early on Friday and at least 19 senators signed in a matter of hours. It was released late on Friday.

In the weekend, another letter signed by 65 members of the US Congress submitted to President Barack Obama, asking him to urge Turkey to hold free and fair elections. That letter also highlighted the Turkish government's crackdown on press before the elections.

Turkish authorities have seized two critical newspapers, two TV channels and a radio channel on Tuesdya, expelling columnists and reporters. The newspapers were published with strictly pro-government line on Friday. The papers and TV stations had been major platforms for opposition figures to voice their criticisms against the government.

Both the EU and the US denounced the move while Freedom Freedom said this "act of censorship" underminess fairness of elections.

"Unfortunately, this problem is not new," senators wrote in the letter, recalling that Turkey's press rating by Freedom House over the past three years has been the lowest score of "not free."

The letter highlighted forced closure and raids on prominent media outlets, including Koza-İpek Media Group, in addition to attacks on members of the press.

"If Turkey hopes to live up to its democratic goals, it is imperative that it honor ideals of free and unbiased media coverage and ensure a free and fair electoral environment," it stated.

The State Department already asked Turkey to ensure that the elections on Sunday are free and fair in response to claims that the Turkish authorities are preparing to rig the elections. Many critics already claim that the fairness of the elections is clouded due to uneven distribution of ads on TVs, baised media coverage and intense pressure on opposition by the Turkish government.

This is the seventh letter by US lawmakers addressed to Kerry or Obama in past nine months over Turkey's poor human rights record. Most of the letters asked Turkey to improve its media environment. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th in its latest press freedom index while Freedom House said it is one of the "Not Free" countries.

Recalling that Turkey is a key NATO ally and a critical player in a vital region of the world, the senators said its stability is a priority for the US and NATO allies. They said it is imperative that Turkey improve its approach to press freedom and election processes as well as build stronger democratic institutions as its democracy continues to evolve.

"We strongly urge you to address these most critical issues with [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and his administration in advance of the Nov. 1 elections. We appreciate your attention to this matter."

Published on Today's Zaman, 31 October 2015, Saturday