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Turkey has become one of the global showcases for authoritarian practices, EP says

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The European Parliament (EP) on Wednesday approved a detailed report examining the current relationship between the European Union and Turkey, saying it “affirms with regret that Türkiye has now become one of the global showcases for authoritarian practices.”

The EP report discusses democracy and human rights, foreign policy and regional stability, regional conflicts and international relations, and outlines a prospective roadmap for EU-Turkey relations in the future.

The document expresses deep dismay at the persistent negative developments in Turkey, highlighting an escalation of democratic erosion in the past year due to legislative changes fostering online censorship and limiting information access purportedly to curb misinformation. The EP critically addressed the Turkish government’s relentless crackdown on dissent, especially noticeable during the most recent electoral period.

Concerns about the judicial system’s independence, suppression of fundamental freedoms and the deteriorating situation of minority and women’s rights in the country were emphasized. The EP underscored the necessity for an independent judiciary in sustaining a democratic system that serves the populace well. It accused Turkish authorities of manipulating judicial structures for political leverage, citing prominent cases such as those of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala. It urged Turkey to respect the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The document deplored the unceasing restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, while criticizing the routine harassment of opposition members, human rights advocates and journalists through unjust anti-terror laws and other suppressive actions. It condemned the rampant attacks on journalists and independent media, emphasizing the pivotal role of a free civil society and press in fostering a vibrant democracy and societal well-being.

The EP noticed an increase in the pressure on political parties and opposition figures, fearing an escalation after May elections amid the nation’s sinking economic situation. The report cited the numerous pre-election arrests and an ongoing closure case against the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as indicators of this distressing development.

It highlighted the deterioration of women’s rights due to rising gender-based violence and femicides, urging Turkey to take decisive steps to eradicate “honor killings” and aid survivors. The EP criticized Turkey’s retreat from the Istanbul Convention, requesting a reversal in accordance with international commitments.

The report lambasted persistent discrimination and hate speech against the LGBTI+ community, denouncing derogatory rhetoric from top officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It called for Turkey to revive its dedication to fighting discrimination against LGBTI+ individuals.

Detailing severe repression against the Kurdish community, particularly in the southeastern areas, the EP advocated for the reinstatement of cultural rights and incorporating the Kurdish language in the educational system, encouraging a peaceful discourse to address the Kurdish issues.

It voiced apprehension about the emerging presence of far-right Islamist parties in the Turkish parliament and the mounting influence on legislative and administrative spheres. The EP expressed discontent with the excessive concentration of power in the presidency and highlighted Turkey’s diminishing efforts to align with the EU’s values and standards. It emphasized the weakening intent to enact significant reforms pertaining to rule of law and fundamental rights.

The report addressed economic vulnerabilities including rampant inflation and urged the restoration of trust in crucial institutions such as the Central Bank of Turkey and the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat). It emphasized the potential benefits of bolstering EU-Turkey relations for improving living standards in Turkey.

The document criticized Turkish government implementation of legislation including the 2020 Social Media Law, the 2021 Anti-Money Laundering Law and the 2022 Disinformation Law, defining them as instruments facilitating the systematic silencing of journalists, activists, academics and artists, fostering an environment of intimidation and self-censorship. It scrutinized the extensive control over social media and online news platforms established with the 2022 Disinformation Law, outlining punitive measures including imprisonment for distributing “disinformation and fake news.”

The EP pinpointed the rise in state-backed propaganda, identifying the state-run Anadolu news agency as a primary culprit. It also acknowledged the recent presidential and parliamentary elections in May, appreciating the substantial voter turnout and predominantly peaceful environment despite isolated incidents of violence against opposition supporters.

While acknowledging that environment, the EP criticized the conspicuous favor shown to the ruling party, documented by the OSCE/ODIHR mission. It remarked that media partiality and incendiary rhetoric, including prejudice against minorities, compromised the democratic procedure. The EP deplored the manipulative utilization of state mechanisms to dictate news coverage and muzzle opposing voices, a trend noticeable even before the elections.

Expressing deep sorrow over the devastating earthquakes in southeastern Turkey and Syria in February 2023, which claimed over 50,000 lives, the EP conveyed its heartfelt condolences to the grieving families. It praised the swift EU humanitarian aid and highlighted the necessity for European solidarity in nurturing relations with Turkey, urging transparent and secure reconstruction efforts.

In the foreign policy arena, the report acknowledged Turkey’s revitalized efforts to mend ties with several nations, including Armenia, Egypt, Israel and the Gulf states. However, it raised alarms over a Turkish foreign policy trajectory seemingly straying from the EU’s core interests, advocating for a constructive reorientation.

The report scrutinized Turkey’s military operations in Syria and its occupation of northern territories, expressing anxiety over the repercussions of Turkish air raids in northern Syria and Iraq on susceptible groups like the Yazidis. It championed Turkey’s involvement in global peace initiatives in Libya, encouraging adherence to the existing arms embargo.

Acknowledging Turkey’s critical role in the political and economic landscape, the report perceived the resumption of Turkey’s EU accession procedure as improbable under the current circumstances, advocating for considerable shifts in Turkish government policy direction. It called for a renewed alliance anchored in cooperation and trust, highlighting the supreme importance of democratic principles, human rights and international law in shaping future ties.

The Turkish government dismissed the report as a compilation of “unfounded allegations and prejudices” guided by anti-Turkey groups, according to a press release from the foreign ministry issued on Wednesday. Turkey criticized what it called the EP’s “shallow and non-visionary approach” toward Turkey-EU relations, claiming that the report diverged from historical and legal facts.

Over the past several years, Turkey has been suffering from a deteriorating economy, with high inflation and unemployment as well as a poor human rights record. President Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.

Turkey and the EU began membership talks in 2005, but the process has been at a standstill in recent years. Countries aspiring to become members must align their laws and legislation in 35 policy areas, or negotiating chapters. EU leaders agreed in 2018 that no new chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations should be opened or closed.

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