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20th Jul 2018

Imprisonment of Turkish journalists draws MEP rebuke

MEPs have condemned the imprisonment of a growing number of journalists in Turkey, scoring the issue as a major black mark against the country's aspirations of joining the European Union.

On Wednesday (9 March) the euro-deputies adopted a progress report on EU-Turkey negotiations, highlighting the apparent deterioration in the country's media freedom, the deadlock over Cyprus and a lack of dialogue among Turkish political parties as key stumbling blocks.

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  • Critics say Europe has little moral authority to lecture on press freedom (Photo: Maneno.org)

Centre-right MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the report's draftswoman, said: "Freedom of press is crucial for the proper functioning of the system of checks and balances."

Reports suggest more than 60 journalists are now in detention in Turkey as a result of their reporting, a sign of the growing intolerance of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's government, say critics.

The arrest of two prominent investigative journalists this month has provoked widespread concern, prompting thousands of people take to the streets in protests both in Istanbul and Ankara.

Previous prosecutions have tended to focus on Turkey's pro-Kurdish reporters, but recently critical journalists have been hauled in for questioning in connection with an alleged conspiracy by the Ergenekon network.

Turkish authorities claim the secularist group is plotting a series of attacks, including bombings, in order to discredit the government and trigger a military takeover. Others say it is merely an excuse to silence the country's free press.

"Our fear now is that the investigation into the Ergenekon gang has taken a quite different turn and what is now being investigated is in fact critical reporting and journalism," said Emma Sinclair Webb of Human Rights Watch.

The European Parliament's Green group argues Europe should tackle the issue through Turkey's EU accession negotiations.

"Clearly the most effective way to exert pressure on Turkey to implement human rights reforms would be to open the negotiating chapter on fundamental rights (chapter 23) as part of the accession talks," Green MEP and chair of the parliament's Turkey delegation, Hélène Flautre, said after Wednesday's vote.

"It is short-sighted in the extreme that the EU fails to do so," she added.

Others say European calls for freedom of the press in Turkey and elsewhere are greatly undermined by the litany of media attacks within the EU's borders, pointing to a series of recent reforms to Hungary's controversial media law as being too weak.

"The EU will not have credibility anywhere in the world when it makes its high-sounding declarations abroad if it doesn't practice the principles at home," the outgoing general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, said at a hearing in Brussels earlier this month.

Mr White said that while press freedoms were being restricted in both eastern and western Europe, the high propensity for attacks in new EU member states highlighted the need for tougher accession negotiations in this area.

"It was a criminal negligence that this issue was not addressed at the last enlargement," he said.

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