December 15, 2014

EU condemns Turkish raids against media as ’unacceptable’

The European Union has said a media assault on Zaman daily and other media outlets is an "unacceptable attack" against freedom of media, urging Turkish authorities to respect rights of defendants.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign affairs and Security Policy and Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said in a joint statement on Sunday that the police raids and arrests of a number of journalists and media representatives in Turkey are an unacceptable attack against freedom of media, which is a core principle in any real democracy.

"We expect that the principle of presumption of innocence will prevail and recall the inalienable right for an independent and transparent investigation in case of any alleged wrongdoing, with full respect of the rights of the defendants," the statement said.

"Coming only a few days after our visit to Turkey," the commissioners said, "which has underlined the importance of EU-Turkey relations, this operation denies the European values and standards Turkey aspires to be part of and which are the core of reinforced relations."

They recalled that progress in accession negotiations with any candidate country depends on the full respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights.

"We will convey our concerns to the [European] Council, which will on Tuesday discuss enlargement policy, including Turkey. We expect that the strong EU commitment given by our Turkish counterparts during our visit to be translated into deeds," the commissioners said.

Earlier on Sunday, the EU commission expressed its concern over the Dec. 14 operation in Turkey targeting media outlets and journalists affiliated with the Gülen movement, saying it will continue to follow developments related to the operation with its local delegation.

“We are very concerned about reports reaching us from Turkey about detained journalists and media representatives. Our delegation on the ground is working hard to give us a full picture,” European Commission Spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said.

Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, were detained on Sunday in a police operation that targeted journalists, TV scriptwriters and former police officers.

European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz described the raid on the Zaman daily as “troubling” and underlined that media freedom is one of the key values for full membership to the EU, which Turkey has been struggling to be a part of for decades.

“#ÖzgürBasınSusturulamaz [The free press cannot be silenced] key principle to join EU. #Turkey and #pressfreedom proceed in different directions. Raid on #Zaman very troubling,” Schulz said via Twitter.

The #ÖzgürBasınSusturulamaz hashtag has become a worldwide trending topic on Twitter on Sunday. European officials, deputies, politicians as well as human rights organizations have raised their voice on Twitter against the operation on the media.

EP's Turkey rapporteur shocked by Sunday's detentions

EP Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri, who recently paid a visit to Turkey for her progress report, also expressed astonishment over the detentions targeting leading media outlets in the country, saying the operation is an “attack on press freedom.”

“Shocked by arrests in Turkey. An attack on press freedom, going after media that criticize government. Waiting for official explanation,” Piri said on her Twitter account.

In her earlier remarks to the Cihan news agency last week, Piri said press freedom will be included in Turkey's progress report as it is one of the core issues which is at the heart of the values of the European Union.

More than 20 people were also detained in a nationwide operation early on Sunday. A list of suspects to be detained, released by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, shows that 32 people were to be detained.

The suspects are accused of forming, leading or being a member of an armed terrorist organization, forgery and slander, according to a statement released by the prosecutor's office.

The detentions came days after a government-sponsored bill that made it possible to arrest suspects based on "reasonable doubt" was signed into law.

EP vice president: Media arrests will end Turkey's accession

Alexander Lambsdorff, the vice president of the EP, stated that the Turkish government's acts targeting the media are jeopardizing its EU membership.

In his remarks to the Cihan news agency, Lambsdorff said Sunday's detentions demonstrate “beyond reasonable suspicion” that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has given up its ambitions to join the EU.

“Turkey will be either be a democratic country with an open society and free media or it will squander its future as an oppressive middle income country that will continue to lose its best and brightest to Europe and the United States just as it has under military dictatorship. Today's events seem to indicate that the government's choice is for oppression. That is sad news for all friends of Turkey in Europe and around the world but mostly, it is sad news for the people of Turkey," he said.

Lambsdorff also stated that the media arrests will end Turkey's EU accession process in Twitter.

In his remarks to Today's Zaman, Council of Europe Spokesperson Daniel Holtgen said Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland is following the situation in Turkey closely and that the issue will be on Jagland's agenda during his upcoming visit to Turkey.

“Mr. Jagland says he is always concerned when media freedom is at risk and when journalists are detained or in any way handled in their work. This applies not only to Turkey but to any member state country of the Council of Europe when such events take place, as we've seen for the last 24 hours. So we're examining this closely and the secretary-general will discuss the event with the government in Turkey in early January when we make an official visit to Ankara,” Holtgen stated.

Senior Turkey researcher with the Human Rights Watch Emma Sinclair-Webb viewed the raid on the Zaman daily and Samanyolu TV as another attempt to silence the critical media in Turkey.

“Detention of journos, editors in wider operation looks like another attempt to crack down on Turkey's critical media. Burden on Turkish govt to show evidence to justify accusing Zaman journos of being part of organization attempting to capture state power,” she wrote on Twitter.

Another reaction came from Sir Graham Watson, the leader of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party in the EP, who said Turkey is illustrating the features of an authoritarian regime.

“European Liberal Democrats are deeply disturbed by the arrests of TV editor Hidayet Karaca and newspaper editor Ekrem Dumanli. Turkey is now displaying characteristics more normally associated with authoritarian regimes. Freedom of expression seriously under threat,” he said via his Twitter account.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shared reports related to the raid and detention on its Twitter account.

Former Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee Co-chairman Joost Lagendijk said the EU will harshly condemn the detentions. He said people will find it hard to understand why these detentions took place as Zaman and Today's Zaman are well known in Europe.

“People will realize that the acts of [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and the government have exceed the limits both within and outside the country. Many people see authoritarian tendencies in Turkey. When you search for Erdoğan and authoritarianism in Google, thousands of pages appear. These two words, Erdoğan and authoritarianism, are unfortunately mentioned together,” he said, assessing the detention of the large-circulating daily's editor-in-chief as “one of the worst events that can happen in a democratic country.”

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 December 2014, Sunday