March 6, 2016

EU stays silent as Turkish president seizes newspaper

The European Union was last night under fire for failing to condemn a crackdown on free speech in Turkey which saw the state-enforced takeover of the country’s largest newspaper.

Critics accused Brussels of a ‘cynical silence’ over hard-line president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s clampdown, claiming EU leaders were reluctant to anger Ankara ahead of a crunch summit on the migration crisis.

The court-ordered takeover of Zaman sparked international outrage and was described as one of the ‘darkest days’ in the history of the country’s Press – but EU chiefs largely remained silent.

Today they will desperately try to convince Turkey to do more to curtail the flow of migrants traveling to Europe.

In return for Ankara taking action to stop hundreds of thousands of refugees leaving its western border for Greece, the EU has pledged £2.3billion as well as the easing of visa restrictions on its citizens traveling to Europe.

It has also promised to speed up controversial moves to admit Turkey to full EU membership.

In an underwhelming statement, the EU’s diplomatic service said: ‘The EU has repeatedly stressed that Turkey, as [an EU] candidate country, needs to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media.’

But neither European Council president Donald Tusk nor European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker intervened to condemn Turkey’s actions.

Only Martin Schulz, European Parliament president, condemned the move on Twitter as ‘yet another blow to Press freedom in Turkey’ and said he intended to raise the issue today.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned the EU on the eve of the Brussels summit not to ‘yield to blackmail regarding migrants’.

‘There can be no question of resuming EU accession talks while Ankara visibly tramples on basic European values,’ said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

‘Until now, the EU has demonstrated culpable weakness in response to president Erdogan’s attacks on the media. Is the EU determined to let itself be humiliated?’

Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of the US-based rights watchdog Freedom House said: ‘The European Union … should not trade Turkey’s support on migration and Syria for silence over the dismantling of democratic institutions.’

The top-selling daily newspaper had been sharply critical of President Erdogan before the court ordered the seizure on Friday.

But prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted that the court order was a legal decision, not a political one, and denied any government involvement in the move.

Published on Daily Mail, 6 March 2016, Sunday