November 13, 2015

G-20 leaders must caution AK Party government on flagging freedoms

As leaders of the world's 20 most influential economies gather for the 10th summit of the Group of 20 (G-20) in Antalya, opposition politicians and academics believe the visiting leaders must stay true to the principles of free speech, free media and the right to property and urge Turkey to respect fundamental freedoms.

Many of the members of the G-20, which include countries like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US as well as the EU, have arguably respectable records of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

In this regard, opposition politicians and academics believe Turkey's ever-deteriorating track record on freedom of speech and press freedom should encourage at least some of the G-20 leaders to utilize the summit to urge the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to halt its oppressive tactics.

Koza İpek takeover example of arbitrary government persecution

For example, Turkey witnessed on Oct. 28 the persecution of a businessman who refused to kowtow to the AK Party, as 22 companies of Koza İpek Holding, owned by Akın İpek, were taken over by trustees just days before the election on Nov. 1.

Koza İpek owns critical TV stations Bugün TV, Kanaltürk and the Bugün and Millet dailies. The two seized newspapers, which were quickly turned into government mouthpieces after the takeover, are now unrecognizable.

Claims by AK Party officials such as party spokesperson Ömer Çelik, who said after the Nov. 1 snap election that the AK Party would be “all embracing” and “not seek revenge,” were short-lived. Only two days after the election, 82 journalists were fired from their jobs at the Bugün daily.

The takeover of Koza İpek has been deemed by many to be a blatant violation of the right to property and a violation of Article 35 of the Constitution that states: “Everyone has the right to own and inherit property. These rights may be limited by law only in view of public interest.”

Index of Economic Freedom ranks Turkey 59th in terms of right to property

According to the Index of Economic Freedom, an annual guide published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and The Heritage Foundation, Turkey is ranked 59th in the world in terms of right to property.

“Corruption, cronyism, and nepotism persist in government and daily life,” says the Index of Economic Freedom's report on Turkey. “An October 2013 report noted weaknesses related to transparency, with government ministries refusing to hand over information to the Court of Accounts and pressuring the court to alter its reports on corruption.”

“The judiciary is only nominally independent. Property rights are generally enforced, but the courts are slow,” the WSJ-based report says.

MHP deputy: Leaders obligated to voice concerns if sincere about freedoms

Oktay Öztürk, deputy chair for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), told Today's Zaman the most talked-about subject at the G-20 summit should be Turkey's divergence from human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“If Western leaders are sincere about EU principles, about totalitarianism, then they must voice their concerns in a serious manner,” Öztürk said. “Turkey is being flung towards a one-man rule as the separation of powers is being rendered obsolete.”

“The unfortunate developments that have taken place in the last month are enough proof,” he added. “The private sector is being seized. Media outlets are being taken over.”

“If they are not going to raise concerns about these things now, then when?” he asked.

Öztürk also criticized the postponement of the EU progress report that was supposed to be released on Oct. 14 until after the snap election on Nov. 1.

Öztürk's statement reinforces the belief that the EU will choose to disregard principles and keep mum about issues of freedom of speech and media freedoms in a bid to secure Turkey's partnership to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

Statements made by interim EU Affairs Minister and Chief Negotiator Beril Dedeoğlu on Thursday validate the fears of Özürk, when she said that an EU official had offered concessions on Turkey's progress report in return for Turkey taking on a role to reduce the refugee flow.

Dedeoğlu said someone from the commission -- though the minister claimed not to remember who -- offered to soften the report in return for Turkey taking steps to stem the flow of refugees into Europe.

Professor Bacık: Western leaders will choose interests over principles

Professor Dr. Gökhan Bacık from the international relations department of İpek University said even if Western leaders voice their criticisms of the Turkish government it will be veiled in diplomatic discourse.

“It would be wrong to expect them [G-20 leaders] to criticize Turkey even though they should because they, in a practical way, will prioritize their interests over principles.”

“Of course the veiled criticisms of Western leaders in the face of Turkey's serious diversion away from EU norms contradict the democratic principles of the West,” Bacık said. “When posed with a choice of principles versus interests, the G-20 leaders will definitely not choose principles.”

Obama expected to deliver strong message on freedom of speech

US President Barack Obama is reportedly expected to deliver strong messages about the importance of press freedom in Turkey during his visit to Antalya.

The probability of Obama's reproach of the deterioration of press freedoms in Turkey is likely to be reinforced by the fact that media organizations critical of the government, including Today's Zaman, have not been granted accreditation by the authorities to cover the G-20 summit.

News portal Haberdar reported recently that there was a disagreement between Washington and Ankara due to Obama's intentions to highlight the importance of press freedom in Turkey. Ankara is reportedly trying hard to prevent any such messages being given on the issue.

The US voiced its concern over the refusal to grant accreditation to media outlets critical of the government to cover the summit, urging Turkey to encourage critical opinions, not silence.

"We are concerned by a troubling pattern in Turkey of targeting media outlets and other organizations that are critical of the government," a US State Department spokesperson said.

A number of critical media outlets, including this newspaper, were barred from covering the G-20 summit, a practice that has become routine in Turkey. The government's media ban for such a high-level meeting drew international criticism.

The spokesperson said in a democratic society "critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced."

Reporters from Zaman, Today's Zaman, Sözcü and the Cihan news agency and Samanyolu TV are still waiting for their accreditation to be granted despite the fact that the Office of the Prime Minister, Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM) granted accreditation for most Turkish media outlets approximately one month ago.

Republican People's Party (CHP) chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a written statement on Friday criticized the arbitrary ban of journalists from certain media outlets from the G-20.

Stating that freedom of the press is a prerequisite for a contemporary democracy, Kılıçdaroğlu wrote: “In this regard freedom of the press is the freedom of the people. The opposite will mean the rule of oppressive administrations, authoritarian regimes and even dictatorships.”

Pointing out that nearly 3,000 journalists have been accredited to report on the G-20, Kılıçdaroğlu said the fact that journalists from media outlets critical of the government are being banned shows how the government is controlling the media.

The G-20, made up of 19 member countries and the EU, was formed in 1999 as a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. The first G-20 Leaders' Summit was held in 2008 as a response to the global financial crisis.

Since then G-20 countries, which account for more than 80 percent of the global economy, have met nine times. Turkey took over the presidency from Australia in December and is set to host the two-day summit in Antalya beginning on Sunday.

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 November 2015, Friday