Sunday

18th Aug 2019

Opinion

Europe 'cherry-picks' which jailed Turkey journalists to help

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Edogan has imprisoned several hundred journalists - not all of their cases are championed equally by the EU (Photo: akparti.org.tr)

It is getting increasingly clear that European institutions are 'cherry-picking' the imprisoned journalists in Turkey for whom they want to protest.

There are several groups of jailed journalists - and European reaction differs depending on which category you fall in.

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  • US-based Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government accuses him of being behind the failed coup of 2016 (Photo: gulenmovement.com)

If you are European or Turkish-origin European journalist, the reaction is of epic proportions, followed by open (or secret) meetings with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ensure their release.

Foreign ministers and even former prime ministers are involved in these dirty deals. This form of 'hostage-taking' has generally paid off.

The reaction for leftist, liberal or secular journalists is at a lower pitch, but still noteworthy.

There are no European ministers' visits to Turkey to get them freed but, nevertheless, European institutions make a lot noise.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the last resort for justice in Turkey, take their cases as a matter of priority.

Deniz Yucel and the French journalist Loup Bureau are good examples for the first category.

Yucel should have never been imprisoned in the first place and it is very good that he is free at last.

However, German media reported that it took two secret meetings between German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel and Erdogan to set him free.

We do not yet exactly know what the final 'price tag' was for his freedom.

The Altan brothers and Sahin Alpay fall in the second category.

The Turkish Constitutional Court recently ruled that Mehmet Altan and Alpay should be released. However, in an unprecedented disrespect for the highest judicial authority and blatant breach of the constitution, local courts refused to implement the ruling.

Altan and Alpay are respected, left-leaning liberals. Their cases were taken by the ECHR as a matter of priority.

Noone cares?

There is a third group nobody cares about and they are my colleagues from Zaman, the so-called 'Gulenist' journalists.

The other group in this class is the Kurdish reporters.

Erdogan squarely blames the Gulen movement as the sole perpetrator for the failed coup attempt of 2016 without convincing proof (most in Brussels believe that Gulenists were involved, but it was not Gulen who ordered the coup).

Despite the lack of compelling evidence, the European institutions are careful not to anger Erdogan, meticulously omitting references to the movement in their reports and statements.

At the beginning of February, the ECHR refused the application of Mustafa Unal, Zaman's former Ankara bureau chief.

Unal has been in jail for the past 19 months and the evidence presented in the indictment comprises nothing but his articles.

Unal is being tried in the same case with Alpay, and exactly with the same indictment, full of the same charges. Yet the court decided to take up Alpay's application while rejecting Unal's.

Vincent Berger, Unal's French lawyer in Paris, told me recently he was shocked and the court decision was "a real shame and a clear discrimination".

Most disturbing of all, Berger said, the decision was a dangerous message to Ankara - implying that the government could do whatever it wants with this group of journalists.

The ECHR has still not responded my question about why the court took two different decisions in the same case. In a further blow, the ECHR has also rejected an application from Zaman, which was asking its damages to be compensated.

The European Parliament, the most outspoken critic among the EU institutions, adopted a resolution in early February condemning Erdogan's despotic drift.

While being quite vocal on media freedom, the report mentioned only Cumhuriyet daily whose four reporters are still behind bars.

According to the Stockholm Centre for Freedom, an NGO created by exiled Turkish journalists, out of 205 imprisoned journalists, 124 of them are either from Zaman or Gulen-affiliated media outlets.

Yet, there was not a single reference to this in the European parliament's report.

My colleagues are discriminated against badly enough by Turkish authorities.

They do not deserve to be further discriminated against by the European institutions.

Selcuk Gultasli was Brussels bureau chief of the Turkish newspaper Zaman. Zaman was closed by decree of the Turkish government in July 2016.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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