Houston Chronicle Editorial Board
There is nothing subtle in Turkey's continuing assault on media freedom, and there should be nothing subtle from world leaders in condemning these actions. A country's largest newspaper isn't transformed overnight from a watchdog critiquing government overreach to a lapdog of that government without a declawing.
Earlier this month, the opposition paper, Zaman, was publishing stories opposing the increasing authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Days later, the paper's front page featured a smiling President Erdogan and a headline trumpeting the "Historic excitement..." over the completion of a new bridge which may be named after him.
In between these starkly different editorial stances was a government raid of the newspaper's offices in Istanbul by police using teargas and water cannons. The raid came after a court ordered Zaman to be put under state control.
This is nothing new for Erdogan, who was Turkey's prime minister before being elected president in 2014. He is so opposed to dissent that he has called for social media sites to be shut down, and he is so prickly to criticism that Turkish prosecutors are now pursuing nearly 2,000 cases of "insulting the president."
The Erdogan regime justifies its censorship of news outlets like Zaman because of ties with the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen's Cemaat movement, which it claims is trying to overthrow the government. Gulen is now in [self-imposed] exile in Pennsylvania and was an ally of Erdogan until 2013.
This clampdown comes at a critical intersection of Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II and the European Union's considering admitting Turkey into its ranks.
In 2015, more than a million refugees poured into Europe, most of them driven there by the war in Syria. As one of the two primary entry points by land, Turkey has assumed a large burden of the cost and shelter of these migrants, a responsibility coupled with the rise of ISIS and the continuing violence in the Middle East, making Turkey a valuable EU and U.S. ally.
An emergency meeting on the refugee crisis was held in Brussels last week between EU and Turkish leaders. Tentative agreements were made for Turkey to restrict the movement of refugees to Europe in exchange for more aid for their care, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and speeding up Turkey's admission into the EU. Not wishing to jeopardize this assistance with the refugees explains the EU's muted denunciation of Turkey's media suppression, but it can't excuse the tepid response.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has already violated its own constitution when it comes to freedom of the press. Stronger than they have so far, the leaders of the EU must raise their voices in condemnation and not allow their principles to a free and vibrant press to be compromised.
Published on Houston Chronicle, 12 March 2016, Saturday