Friday

9th Dec 2016

Press crackdown could sour EU-Turkey summit

  • Journalists and supporters gathered in front of Zaman's building to protest against the takeover (Photo: Today's Zaman)

EU-Turkey relations could suffer a blow after a Turkish court ordered on Friday (4 March) the takeover of an opposition newspaper.

Trustees have been appointed by an Istanbul court to take the management of Zaman at the request of the public prosecutor. The managerial as well as the editorial board will be changed.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Zaman is close to Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in the US and opponent of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The court's decision is part of a crackdown on the financial activities of the Gulen movement.

"Today, we are experiencing a shameful day for media freedom in Turkey. Our media institutions are being seized," Sevgi Akarcesme, the editor in chief of Today's Zaman's, the English-language edition of the newspaper, told a crowd of people gathered outside Zaman's building.

“As of today, the constitution has been suspended,” she said, as the Turkish constitution does not allow seizure of printing houses and press equipment.

The European Commission expressed "high concern" and reminded that the EU "has repeatedly stressed that Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to aspire to the highest possible democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media".

"Any country negotiating its EU accession needs to guarantee human rights, including freedom of expression, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights," a commission spokesperson said.

'Good and growing cooperation'

The attack on press freedom by Turkish authorities comes ahead of an EU-Turkey summit on common action to manage the current refugee crisis.

It happened a day after European Council president Donald Tusk was in Ankara to visit Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and while EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn was in the country visiting a refugee camp.

Ahead of the summit where European countries will ask Turkey to do more to fight migrant smuggling, reduce the flow of refugees and take back economic migrants denied asylum in Europe, the EU was trying to focus on the positive side of relations with Ankara.

On Thursday, Tusk praised the "good and growing cooperation".

On Friday, while the Istanbul court ordered Zaman's takeover, the EU commission adopted its second report on progress made by Turkey in the process to obtain a liberalisation of visas to Europe.

In a press release, migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos "commend[ed] the efforts made by Turkey".

Turkey's aim is to complete the visa liberalisation process by October this year. Otherwise, a Turkish official told EUobserver, it would "scrap" the agreement on readmission of irregular migrants.

Also on Friday, the commission announced the first €95 million of projects financed by a €3 billion fund to help Turkey with the 2.7 million Syrian refugees on its territory.

International outrage

Behind the public statements and the good gestures, however, talks on the refugee crisis could be difficult on Monday.

In the third implementation report on the EU-Turkey joint action plan, also published on Friday, the commission suggested frustration at the pace of Turkey's efforts in stemming the flows.

"The number of people arriving irregularly to the EU from Turkey is still high for this period of the year when winter conditions were expected to contribute to a decrease in the number of arrivals," the report says.

"Turkey is urged to strengthen its action against smuggling of migrants, notably by increasing its cooperation with the EU and Member State actors," it says.

"More specifically, Turkey is requested to take decisive action against migrant smuggling; to further strengthen efforts to prevent irregular crossings from Turkey to the EU."

The takeover of Zaman and the international outrage could make public relations more difficult.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called on the EU to react to the event.

“The European Union cannot remain silent to the political seizure of Zaman newspaper, Today’s Zaman daily and Cihan news agency," the two journalists organisations said in a common statement, referring to news outlets of the Zaman group.

In a message posted on Twitter, the European Parliament rapporteur for Turkey, Dutch social-democratic MEP Kati Piri, wrote: "Feared for a long time, now happening: Zaman Media Group being silenced in Turkey. Crackdown on press freedom continues sadly."

The Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, deplored in a statement "an extremely serious interference with media freedom which should have no place in a democratic society".

“Today’s decision of the authorities to appoint trustees to Zaman newspaper is deeply worrying,” the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic was quoted as saying by Today's Zaman.

"This move not only further threatens media pluralism in the country, but also intimidates critical voices.”

Commission won't call Castro a dictator

The EU executive says that a statement decribing the former Cuban leader as a "hero for many" is balanced and suggests that the use of the word dictator by a commissioner doesn't reflect its position.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debated on the Future of the EU at the Winter Mingle
  2. ACCASets Out Fifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  3. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  5. CESICongress Re-elects Klaus Heeger & Romain Wolff as Secretary General & President
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  7. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  8. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  9. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  10. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  11. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  12. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children

Latest News

  1. No joke: Russian propaganda poses EU threat
  2. ECB reshapes its bond-buying scheme
  3. Digital content directive threatens app development sector
  4. EU says Greece fit to take back migrants
  5. MEPs back plan to 'revitalise' complex financial products
  6. EU offers Denmark backdoor to Europol
  7. EU nationals fighting for IS drop by half
  8. EU targets Germany and UK for not fining VW's emissions fraud

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  2. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  3. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  4. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  5. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  6. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  7. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  8. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  9. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech