December 18, 2014

Turkey’s media crackdown: World reactions in quotes

The detention of prominent journalists known for taking a critical stance on the Turkish government from Zaman, the most circulated daily in Turkey, and Samanyolu, a major television broadcaster, has drawn harsh reaction from all over the world. Foreign government officials and human rights watchdogs have defined the media crackdown as another blow to freedoms in the country and called on Turkey to respect media freedom, as well as shown support for the detained journalists and television producers.

Here is a selection of quotes from statements made by representatives of international organizations, media freedom and rights watchdogs as well as officials from countries around the world:

The European Union

“The police raids and arrests of a number of journalists and media representatives in Turkey are an unacceptable attack on freedom of the media, which is a core principle in any real democracy,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, in a strongly-worded joint statement on Dec. 14.

The commissioners stated “the operation denies the European values and standards” Turkey aspires to be part of and recalled that candidate countries need to depend on the rule of law and fundamental rights. They also stressed that they will convey their concerns to the European Council.

“We expect that the strong EU commitment given by our Turkish counterparts during our visit to be translated into deeds,” the commissioners said.

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki

“Media freedom, due process, and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. As Turkey's friend and ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate these core values and Turkey's own democratic foundations,” Psaki said in a statement issued on Dec. 14.

Psaki stressed that the US is closely following reports on the Turkish government's raid on the media, stating “it appears that media outlets that have been openly critical of the current Turkish government are among the targets of these actions by Turkish law enforcement.”

During a press briefing on Dec. 16, Psaki said the freedom of the media includes the freedom to criticize the government. “Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason,” Psaki said.

White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Mark Stroh

"We noted with concern the arrests of a number of journalists and other members of the media over the weekend," NSC spokesman Mark Stroh said in a statement released on Dec. 15.
He added that Washington has long maintained that freedom of the press is an essential element in all healthy, successful democracies.

"We urge the Turkish authorities to conduct investigations quickly, transparently, and in a manner consistent with the rule of law," Stroh said.

Representative of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Emma Sinclair-Webb

“Detention of journalists, editors in wider operation looks like another attempt to crack down on Turkey's critical media,” said Sinclair-Webb via Twitter on Dec.14.

Sinclair-Webb stated that the burden is on the Turkish government to produce evidence to justify accusing the Zaman media group and Samanyolu group editors and journalists of being part of an organization that attempted to take over state power.

In a statement released on the HRW website on Dec. 15, Sinclair-Webb said the timing and the limited evidence made public suggests that these arrests are politically motivated rather than based on the reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense.

Sinclair-Webb added that the media is once again a target in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political fight with the Hizmet movement. She also recalled the outlets' reporting on a government corruption investigation saying, “The arrests fit the familiar pattern of pursuing journalists for alleged membership of illegal organizations in order to silence critical media.”

European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz

“#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 on Dec. 14. He underlined the fact that media freedom is one of the principal values for full membership to the EU, which Turkey has been struggling to be a part of for decades.

EP Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri

“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 on Dec. 14.

In a separate statement released on Dec. 17, Piri said that she is deeply concerned about the detention of journalists from critical media outlets, which seems to be another blow to press freedom.

"The events of 14 December caused serious concerns in the EU about Turkish willingness to make progress in the field of democratic reforms. In the weeks to come, it is up to Ankara to convince that it is still truly committed to moving closer to the EU and its core values," Piri stated.

EP Vice President Alexander Lambsdorff

“These arrests show beyond a reasonable doubt that the ruling AKP [Justice and Development Party or AK Party] government has given up its ambitions to join the European Union, which in turn should have been a lot tougher, a lot earlier, on questions of fundamental rights and civil liberties,” Lambsdorff said in his remarks to the Cihan news agency on Dec. 14.

Lambsdorff stated that the media crackdown on Dec. 14 seems 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," Lambsdorff said. He also stated in comments on Twitter that the media arrests will end Turkey's EU accession process and underlined the necessity of a new approach.

In a statement issued on Dec. 17, Lambsdorff said that Turkish officials' statements expressing their will to join the EU don't match the government's actions, underlining that Turkey has more imprisoned journalists than Iran or China.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of the media are core EU values. The repeated actions of the Turkish government against journalists, editors and publishers mean that the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession negotiations are no longer fulfilled," Lambsdorff said.

Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland

“Mr. [CoE Secretary-General Thorbjorn] 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,” Holtgen said in an emailed statement on Dec. 14.

Holtgen stated that the CoE is examining the media crackdown closely and that the secretary-general will discuss the event with the government in Turkey in early January when he makes an official visit to Ankara.

CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks

“I urge the authorities to stop the crackdown on press freedom and to act in compliance with the rule of law and human rights,” Muiznieks said in a written statement on Dec. 15. He also described the recent detention of senior media figures in Turkey as a setback for media freedom in the country.

“Irrespective of the reasons which may have motivated them, such measures are disproportionate and unnecessary in a democracy,” Muiznieks said. The commissioner also expressed concern that such measures are likely to further polarize Turkish society. “They [the detentions] send a new chilling message to journalists and dissenting voices in Turkey, who have been under intense pressure, including facing violence and reprisals. They are also likely to… increase public mistrust in the state's ability to uphold human rights,” Muiznieks added.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Anne Brasseur

“Given our past concerns about respect for freedom of expression in Turkey, there are serious questions about whether the arrest of a number of journalists and media representatives over the week-end is in line with the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR]. I am gravely concerned,” said Brasseur in a written statement on Dec. 15.

Brasseur said pressuring and intimidating the media and failing to protect journalists is unacceptable.

President of the Socialists and Democrats group in the EP Gianni Pittella

“President [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] is leading Turkey in the wrong direction: far away from Europe, a situation which could result in Turkey having much to lose in terms of political and economic collaboration with the EU, and really nothing to gain,” said Pittella about the detention of journalists.

Pittella stressed that it is unacceptable for a democratic and modern country that seeks to be part of the European family to carry out a mass arrest of media representatives. “…recent authoritarian tendencies are fully incompatible with our values and what is worse is that they are assuring solid arguments to those who do not want Turkey as a member of European Union,” Pittella stated.

In a separate statement issued on Dec. 17, Pittella continued to express concern, saying: "Unfortunately, the Turkish government's acts and President Erdoğan's rhetoric are taking Turkey further away from this objective, far away from Europe. In a democratic country the freedom to criticize the government or the ruling party cannot be limited -- or put under threat -- under any circumstances. We remind the Turkish government that this is central to the values of the EU.”

Pittella said his party urges Turkey to release all the detained journalists, to uphold the rule of law, to respect the freedom of the media and freedom of expression, and to fully recommit itself to reforms on justice and fundamental freedoms in line with EU standards.

President of the Greens group in the EP Rebecca Harms

“The EU also has a responsibility about the alarming political changes in Turkey. The European Parliament needs to urgently put these developments on this week's plenary agenda," Harms said.

Harms stressed that the arrests of journalists constitute another attack on the freedom of the press and diversity of opinion in Turkey and called on the EU to urge for the immediate release of the journalists.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal

Nadal recalled the recent remarks of senior EU officials on the mass detention of journalists in Turkey in a written statement, the Cihan news agency reported on Dec. 15. Nadal reiterated the EU's desire for Turkey to continue its reforms, particularly in key areas such as the judiciary and fundamental freedoms.

Freedom House Executive Vice President Daniel Calingaert

“The sweeping charges against the journalists and others detained today is a threat to free expression in Turkey and to anyone critical of its government,” said Calingaert in a statement released on the Freedom House website on Dec. 14.

Calingaert said the arrests appear to be government retribution against journalists reporting on corruption and criticizing the government. “The crackdown on speech in Turkey must end,” Calingaert stated.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Joel Simon

"We are deeply concerned about the detention of journalists in Turkey in early morning raids today," said Simon, according to an alert released on CPJ's website on Dec. 14.

Simon stated that Turkish authorities, who, he said, “have a history of politicized prosecutions against the media,” do not tolerate critical voices. “The heavy-handed actions this morning smack of political vengeance.”

PEN International Director Jo Glanville

“The raids on media outlets and mass detention of journalists are an extremely worrying development at a time when freedom of expression is increasingly vulnerable in Turkey,” English PEN, the founding center of PEN International, the worldwide writers' association, said in a statement released on its website on Dec. 15.

Glanville said, “Authoritarian tactics will only serve to erode the government's standing, the freedom of its citizens and Turkey's international reputation.”

Amnesty International (AI)

“Amnesty International urged Turkish authorities to release journalists detained in a wave of arrests yesterday, unless they have credible evidence that they have committed a recognisably criminal offence,” the human rights watchdog said in a statement released on its website on Dec. 15.

AI said in a statement that the Dec. 14 arrest of senior journalists in a section of the media that has played a leading role in covering allegations of corruption among government officials “raise serious questions about the authorities' motivation for their detention.”

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representative Dunja Mijatovic

“Yesterday's [Dec. 14] arrests point to a resurgence in the threats against journalists. They should be released immediately,” Mijatovic said in a letter addressed to Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Mijatovic's letter said that the detentions have once again shown that revision of the laws allowing for the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey is urgent and added: “Laws should not be used to curb dissenting views in a society.”

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird

"Canada is concerned by reports of recent government-ordered raids against media organizations in which journalists and other media representatives have been arrested in Turkey," Baird said in a statement on Dec. 15.

He said such actions are contrary to Turkey's stated commitment to democratic values and respect for human rights and freedoms. “We call on the Turkish government and President Erdoğan to ensure that the Turkish people can exercise their democratic rights without fear of unfounded prosecution,” Baird said.

EP member Marietje Schaake

“The AK [Party] government must respect fundamental rights and freedoms, but is moving in the opposite direction of European values. The credibility of the EU is now at stake, and the accession process cannot be business as usual when journalists are imprisoned and proposals to require more religious education are made,” said Schaake on Dec. 17.

Schaake called on Turkey to stop the systematic attacks on the rule of law.

“Turkey should stop its path away from Europe, and meanwhile, Europe must make it clear that too many boundaries have been unacceptably crossed,” said Schaake.

Chair of the EP delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary cooperation committee Manolis Kefalogiannis

"Last Sunday's police raids and massive arrest of journalists and media representatives in Turkey are of great concern; the detentions of journalists in Turkey go against the EU values, including the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” said Chair of the EP delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary cooperation committee Manolis Kefalogiannis on Dec. 17.

In a statement, Kefalogiannis underlined that the detention of senior journalists constitutes a “serious attack” against one of the core values of liberal democracies and that they violate media freedom and the liberty of expression, undeniable preconditions for EU Membership.

He also stated that the legal basis for the arrests -- “reasonable suspicion” -- that was recently adopted in Parliament in a law package “is doubtful itself and should not be abused.” Kefalogiannis added, “We expect that the principle of the presumption of innocence will prevail.”

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