July 28, 2016

EU says issuing arrest warrants for large number of journalists ‘worrying’

A European Union (EU) spokesperson has responded to a question by the Turkish Minute on the latest arrest warrants issued for nearly 100 journalists in Turkey, as part of a widening crackdown on media, saying that it is worrying.

“It is worrying that following the entry into force of the State of Emergency, arrest warrants have been issued against a large number of journalists. Any alleged wrongdoing or crime should be subject to due process and the right of every individual to fair trial needs to be respected,” the spokesperson said.

Reminding that the EU had repeatedly stressed that Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to aspire to the highest possible democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media, he added, “Any country negotiating its EU accession needs to guarantee human rights, including freedom of expression, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).”

“Free, diverse and independent media are essential in any democratic society. Without freedom of expression and freedom of the media, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is impossible,” he underlined.

The spokesperson also emphasized that the EU believes that it is important to continue to address important matters such as the press freedom as a key element of a continued constructive dialogue between the EU and Turkey.

A total of 131 media organs, including 45 newspapers and 16 TV channels, were shut down and more than 30 journalists were detained with decrees having force of law after a state of emergency was declared on July 20, following the failed coup attempt on July 15.

The detentions arrests and closures have been on suspicion of membership in the so-called Fetullahist Terrorist Organization [FETÖ], which is used by the government-backed judiciary to frame sympathizers of the Gülen movement.

A group of rebel soldiers, acting out of chain of command, attempted a military coup at around 10 p.m. on July 15, which left more than 200 people – including civilians – dead.

The Turkish government managed to suppress the coup attempt and launched a large-scale crackdown across the country on media, public servants, judges, prosecutors and teachers, along with rebels within the army. The detentions, arrests and massive purges that followed the crackdown widened and increased after a state of emergency was declared on July 20, concentrating power formally into the hands of Erdoğan by allowing him and his cabinet to make laws by fiat.

Erdoğan has accussed the Gülen movement of being behind the coup attempt and demanded extradition of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen from the US. Thousands of public servants, judges, prosecutors and journalists were detained by the Turkish police for allegedly having links to the Gülen movement.

Meanwhile, Gülen recently issued a statement condemning the failed military coup attempt in Turkey, calling the allegations of his involvement “demeaning.”

The Gülen movement is a grassroots social initiative inspired by Gülen and carries out charitable activities all around the world, including education, distributing humanitarian aid and providing drinking water especially in African countries.

The Gülen movement is not considered to have influence over the Turkish military, which is known for its Kemalist roots that is against the Gülen movement. The rebel military officials who attempted to stage a coup named themselves as “Council of Peace At Home,” in a declaration they forcibly had delivered via the state-run broadcaster TRT on Friday night. The name is a reference to “Peace at home, peace in the world,” which is a famous saying by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

Since a corruption investigation erupted on Dec. 17, 2013 and led to the resignation of four Cabinet ministers, Erdoğan has launched a witch hunt targeting shop owners, teachers, members of the judiciary, journalists and police officers who are accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is also known as the Hizmet movement. The graft probe implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.

Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of plotting to overthrow his government and said that sympathizers of the movement within the police department had fabricated the corruption scandal. Since then, hundreds of police officers have been detained and some arrested for alleged illegal activity in the course of the corruption investigation. Erdoğan openly said he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. The Gülen movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it.

Published on Turkish Minute, 28 July 2016, Thursday