December 18, 2014

EPP Group on Turkey media crackdown: Do you want to join EU or not?

The European People's Party Group has condemned the recent arrests of journalists in raids by the Turkish police on a newspaper and TV station, asking Ankara if they really want to join the European Union.

"There are worsening signals that the rule of law and the freedom of expression in Turkey are not being respected," the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

The EPP Group spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Cristian Preda, has called on Turkish politicians to clarify the direction that they want to take as regards European Union accession: "I feel that at this point in time, the intention of the Turkish authorities is no longer clear - do they still want to join the EU or not? Do they still want to build a democratic, free society? Those in the Turkish society that support EU accession, and particularly businessmen, are extremely worried about the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press. More than anything, this should raise the alarm about the recent events to all those who support the European future of this country."

More than a dozen prominent journalists, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, were detained on Dec. 14 throughout Turkey on charges of plotting against a group linked to al-Qaeda. Zaman allegedly published stories related to the group while several episodes of STV soap operas condemned the group for its call for violence and solidarity with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Preda called once again on the European Commission to establish clear benchmarks for the opening of negotiation chapters 23 and 24 on Justice and Fundamental Rights, because in doing so, she added, the EU could contribute constructively to the debate on these issues in Turkey.

"We need the cooperation of the Turkish authorities for this to be successful," she noted.

The EPP Group Shadow Rapporteur on Turkey's Progress Report, Renate Sommer, also stressed that democratic values are crucial for a country that wants to become a member of the 28-member club. He noted that the renewed wave of arrests demonstrates a new level in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's policy of intimidation and shows once more the Turkish government's disturbing opposition to critical reporting by the media and freedom of expression.

He stated that those who want to be a member of the EU should not trample on democratic values, adding that the careless handling of corruption allegations over the past year and the recent progress report already shows that the country is moving more and more away from Europe and democracy.

"Any country that wishes to join the European Union must embrace and apply the same standards of democratic societies. The Turkish authorities' actions show that they are far from these standards. I call on the Turkish Constitutional Court to stop these ongoing attempts to suppress fundamental rights," Sommer concluded.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 December 2014, Wednesday