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European Parliament adopts Turkey report deploring serious backsliding on democracy

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The European Parliament has adopted an annual progress report on Turkey which strongly criticized the deteriorating situation of democracy and fundamental rights in the country.

The report was voted on and approved by large majority on Thursday. The resolution was passed by 375 votes to 133, with 87 abstentions.

The EP report said it “deplores the serious backsliding, over the past two years, on freedom of speech, expression and opinion both online and offline in Turkey, which is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.”

To match the EU’s commitment to the rule of law and fundamental values, which are core European values, reforms of the judiciary and fundamental rights and of justice, freedom and security are urgently needed in Turkey, says the text.

“The overall pace of reforms in Turkey has not only slowed down but in some key areas, such as freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary, there has been a regression, which is particularly worrying”, said rapporteur Kati Piri. In this report “we also express our concern about the escalation of violence in the southeast of Turkey, which caused almost 400,000 people to leave their houses”, she added.

Recalling that according to the Turkish authorities’ own figures, Turkey is the country which holds the record for the highest number of journalists behind bars, the resolution reiterates that freedom of opinion, expression and speech, including independent media, are core European values.

Calling for the immediate release of all jailed journalists, the report said it deplores the personal attacks by leading government officials against journalists and opponents, and the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the Turkish leadership.

“[The European Parliament] … urges Turkey to act against intimidation of journalists in all its forms, in particular by investigating all physical attacks and threats against journalists and actively preventing attacks against media outlets, but also by defusing the tense political climate which creates an environment curtailing freedom of speech in the media and on the internet,” it said.

MEPs stressed the resolution that EU-Turkey cooperation on migration should be uncoupled from the EU accession negotiating process. MEPs praised Turkey for hosting the largest refugee population in the world, and noted that it remains a “key strategic partner for the EU” but nonetheless call for progress on rule of law and fundamental values and “a structured and more frequent political dialogue on key thematic issues”.

The report also calls on Turkish authorities to remove government-backed new managers of media groups recently seized and to reappointed journalists fired for their dissatisfaction over the government takeover.

“The European Parliament … calls for the independence of the media of Koza İpek Holding and the Doğan and Feza media groups to be restored and for all government representatives to be removed from the boards of directors, for the dozens of sacked employees who expressed their dissatisfaction at the government takeover to be reappointed, and for the charges of terrorism to be withdrawn,” the draft report that will be debated by EP lawmakers on Wednesday. The report will be voted on on Thursday.

Condemning “the violent and illegal takeover of several Turkish newspapers, including Zaman most recently,” the report also expressed concern about the decision of Digiturk, allegedly based, inter alia, on political grounds, to stop transmitting television channels. It calls on the Turkish Government to end the political and economic pressure on independent media, strongly condemning verbal and physical attacks and the increasing use of defamation and anti-terror legislation against journalists.

In October of last year, Turkey witnessed the firing of hundreds of journalists after appointment of a panel of trustees to the İpek Koza Holding company in a government-backed move, which apparently aimed to intimidate independent journalists and attracted widespread negative reaction.

The trustees took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies and the channels Bugün TV and Kanaltürk early on Oct. 28 when police forcibly entered the broadcasting headquarters of the media group, during which journalists and protesters claimed they were subjected to police brutality. The trustees immediately fired dozens of journalists from the group and turned the news outlets, which used to have a critical stance, into government mouthpieces. The outlets were later shut down.

In a similar vein, hundreds of journalists critical of the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) regime have been fired from their jobs after government-backed trustees took over the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies earlier in March after violent police raid.

Kurdish issue

MEPs call for an immediate ceasefire in southeast Turkey and the resumption of the peace process. They urge the Turkish government to shoulder its responsibility to resume negotiations for a negotiated, comprehensive and sustainable solution to the Kurdish issue. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations, should lay down its arms, abandon terrorist tactics and use peaceful and legal means to voice its expectations, they add.

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