Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the European Union to insist on respect for European democratic norms by the authorities in Turkey, where RSF representative Erol Önderoglu was placed in pre-trial detention a week ago.
At a press conference at RSF headquarters in Paris on June 27, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire urged EU political institutions to remind Turkey of its democratic duties during the EU accession talks that are about to resume in Brussels.
Deloire gave the news conference together with Can Dündar, the editor of the leading Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, who has been sentenced to five years in prison in Turkey.
“Turkey definitely does not satisfy the democratic criteria required of accession candidates and is satisfying them less and less, especially as regards respect for media freedom,” Deloire said. “So it would be incomprehensible if the European Union were to give Turkey a positive signal.”
The EU undertook to revive Turkey’s admission negotiations as part of the EU-Turkey agreement on migration. An inter-governmental conference is due to be held tomorrow in Brussels with several Turkish government ministers in attendance.
Implementation of one of the clauses of the migration accord, visa-free access to the Schengen area for Turkish citizens, has been held up by the EU’s insistence that, in return, Turkey must amend its 1991 anti-terrorism law, which the Turkish authorities use to prosecute many journalists. Some have received long jail terms under the law, which does not distinguish between propaganda and objective reporting.
RSF hopes that Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for enlargement negotiations, reaffirms the EU position that no concession can be made on visa requirements until Turkey brings it anti-terrorism legislation into compliance with European democratic standards.
RSF also urges to the EU to press Turkey to: Decriminalize press offences and, in particular, amend the law on insulting the chief of state; Stop placing media outlets under judicial administration; Amend the Internet law so that only an independent judicial authority can order the blocking of online content; End illegal measures under which TV satellite operators can be forced to drop TV channels; Stop placing journalists in detention (40 are currently in prison, thousands of prosecutions are pending); and end impunity for those responsible for acts of violence against journalists.
RSF said it also hopes that the French government will press its European partners to make respect for media freedom an explicit prior condition for progress in accession talks, and that France will continue its effort to obtain the release of Önderoglu and the two people arrested with him – journalist Ahmet Nesin and human rights defender Sebnem Korur Fincanci.
“This is the worse period I have ever experienced for media freedom in Turkey (…) there is no respect for the rule of law,” Dündar said at the news conference. He has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in Turkey, suffering the crackdown of the 1990s, and recently spending three months in prison together with Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül.
Paying tribute to Önderoglu, Dündar added, “Erol was with us all the time, in prison and in court.”
Deloire also praised Önderoglu, who has been defending media freedom for the past 20 years in Turkey, and has French and Turkish dual nationality.
“He has always defended all journalists who are imprisoned or prevented from working freely, whatever their views and whoever they worked for, whether Kemalists, Islamists supporting the [ruling] AKP or leftists,” Deloire said. “Now he is the victim of the same political mechanism by the Turkish government that he has always criticized.”
Önderoglu’s imprisonment has sparked a vast wave of outrage and solidarity both in Turkey and internationally.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, the UE, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the US State Department and the French and German governments have all called for the swift release of Önderoglu, Nesin and Fincanci, who are charged with “terrorist propaganda” for taking part in a campaign of support for the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.
Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.