EP members ask EU leaders to press Erdoğan on rights issues in Turkey during summit

Rebecca Harms, spokeswoman for foreign affairs and expert on Turkey in the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, has initiated an open letter with other lawmakers in which they are urging EU leaders to bring human rights to the center of EU relations with Turkey and press Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to secure the release of dozens of journalists and many others unjustly jailed in Turkey.

The letter was sent to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk ahead of their meeting with President Erdoğan at the EU-Turkey summit to be held on Monday, March 26, in Varna, Bulgaria.

Seventy-five members of the European Parliament have co-signed the letter thus far.

The EP members say that closer relations between the European Union and Turkey can only be conditioned on the lifting of the state of emergency, returning to rule of law, releasing detained journalists, human rights defenders and elected politicians, and ensuring accountability for torture and ill-treatment committed in police custody.

During an ongoing state of emergency in Turkey that was declared in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, more than 50,000 people have been jailed while 150,000 others have been removed from state posts under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

There are also around 200 journalists in jail, while the media is strictly controlled by the government with the closure of dozens of critical media outlets after the coup attempt.

The letter initiated by Harms reads as follows:

Dear President Tusk, dear President Juncker,

We would like to express grave concern regarding the deterioration of the human rights context and of the rule of law in Turkey, and to write to you ahead of the EU-Turkey leaders’ meeting in Varna, Bulgaria on 26 March 2018. We urge you to ensure human rights are discussed as a matter of priority, and call upon you to press President Erdoğan to put an end to repression in the country and release individuals detained without evidence of wrongdoing.

As Turkey is under a state of emergency imposed after a failed coup in July 2016, President Erdoğan has headed the cabinet and ruled the country by decree, with weakened parliamentary and judicial oversight. Since July 2016, independent media has been silenced, with over 160 media outlets and publishing houses closed down, and scores of journalists and media workers jailed without any evidence of their participation in illegal activities. Turkey is the country with the highest number of journalists in detention anywhere in the world. Many are held in pretrial detention, face terrorism related charges and could face sentences of life imprisonment. Scores of individuals are imprisoned for undertaking their legitimate work as journalists – without ever advocating violence.

The European Parliament has repeatedly condemned the arbitrary imprisonment of many journalists in Turkey and has called for their immediate release, issuing the European Parliament resolution of 27 October 2016 on the situation of journalists in Turkey, the European Parliament resolution of 6 July 2017 on the 2016 Commission Report on Turkey and the European Parliament resolution of 8 February 2018 on the current human rights situation in Turkey.

Several of us have committed to personally take up individual cases of jailed journalists unjustly imprisoned and to repeatedly call for their immediate release. These include Şahin Alpay, a 74-year old political scientist and former columnist for the shuttered newspaper Zaman (released on 16 March, but under judicial control and confinement to his house while his trial continues); Ahmet Şık, investigative writer and reporter for the opposition daily Cumhuriyet (released on 9 March, pending conclusion of trial); Akın Atalay, chief executive officer of Cumhuriyet; Abdullah Kılıç, former columnist for the shuttered daily newspaper Meydan; and Zehra Doğan, artist and journalist for the feminist Kurdish news site JINHA. İnan Kızılkaya, former news editor of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, is currently outside of detention, yet still faces charges and therefore risks reimprisonment. These are just a few examples amongst so many. According to recent accounts, there are still more than 150 journalists imprisoned in Turkey.

Others, including human rights defenders including Osman Kavala and Taner Kılıç, academics, lawyers and elected members of the parliament and local politicians, remain behind bars.

We have been deeply shocked by the recent collapse of the independence and effectiveness of Turkey’s judiciary. On 12 January, a local court crushed a Constitutional Court’s ruling that journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan should be released. On February 1, a decision by a Turkish court to keep Taner Kılıç, human rights defender and chair of the board of Amnesty International’s Turkey section, in pretrial detention less than 24 hours after ordering his provisional release shows the increasingly politicized and arbitrary nature of Turkey’s judicial system. We welcomed the 2 February joint statement by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Commissioner on European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations on those cases and urge you to make robust calls for their release during your Summit with President Erdoğan.

Both EU leaders and elected representatives of the European people have a duty to demonstrate full solidarity with every individual detained in Turkey for exercising their free expression. It is time for the European Union, its institutions and its Members States to make an immediate and strong criticism of the massive crackdown in the country. The Turkish people depend on our support.

Pending discussions on Turkey’s accession to the EU, on a renewed customs union, as well as the EU’s support to key extractive infrastructures like the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline and other forms of economic and political cooperation are important for the EU and Turkey. However, we urge you to be unequivocal with President Erdogan: closer relations between the European Union and Turkey can only be conditioned on the lifting of the state of emergency, returning to rule of law, releasing detained journalists, human rights defenders and elected politicians, and ensuring accountability for torture and ill-treatment committed in police custody.

We would be glad to hear back from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Ana Gomes (S&D)

Ana Miranda (Greens-EFA)

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP)

Bart Staes (Greens/EFA)

Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea (ALDE)

Benedek Jávor (Greens/EFA)

Bernd Lucke (ECR)

Birgit Sippel (S&D)

Barbara Lochbihler (Greens EFA)

Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA)

Boris Zala (S&D)

Brando Benifei (S&D)

Bronis Ropé (Greens/EFA)

Charles Goerens (ALDE)

Claude Turmes (Greens/EFA)

Costas Mavrides (S&D)

Demetris Papadakis (S&D)

Eleonora Evi (EFDD)

Elly Schlein (S&D)

Eva Joly (Greens/EFA)

Fabio Massimo CASTALDO (EFDD)

Georgi Pirinski (S&D)

Georgios Epitideios (Non-attached Member)

Helga Stevens (ECR)

Helga Trüpel (Greens EFA)

Hilde Vautmans (ALDE)

Isabella Adinolfi (EFDD)

Jaromir Stetina (EPP)

Javi López (S&D Group)

Jiří Pospíšil (EPP)

Joachim Starbatty (ECR)

John Howarth (S&D)

Jordi SOLÉ (Greens/EFA)

José Inácio Faria (EPP)

Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D)

Jude Kirton-Darling (S&D)

Julie WARD (S&D)

Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA)

Keith Taylor (Greens/EFA)

Klaus Buchner (Greens/EFA)

Liadh Ní Riada (GUE-NGL)

Luke Ming Flanagan (GUE-NGL)

Lynn Boylan (GUE-NGL)Marco Valli (EFDD)

Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA)

Maria Arena (S&D)

Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE-NGL)

Marietje Schaake (ALDE)

Mark Demesmaeker (ECR)

Martina Anderson (GUE-NGL)

Matt Carthy (GUE-NGL)

Merja Kyllönen (GUE/NGL)

Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (S&D)

Michal Boni (EPP)

Michaela ŠOJDROVÁ (EPP)

Michel Reimon (Greens/EFA)

Michèle Rivasi (Greens/EFA)

Monica Macovei (ECR)

Nikos Androulakis (S&D)

Nadja Hirsch (ALDE)

Pascal Durand (Greens/EFA)

Patricia Lalonde (ALDE)

Pavel Svoboda (EPP)

Peter Kouroumbashev (S&D)

Piernicola Pedicini (EFDD)

Rebecca HARMS (Greens/EFA)

Renate Weber (ALDE)

Richard Sulík (ECR)

Rina Ronja Kari (GUE-NGL)

Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP)

Soraya Post (S&D)

Stefano Maullu (EPP)

Tanja FAJON (S&D)

Takis Hadjigeorgiou (GUE-NGL)

Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA)

Theresa Griffin (S&D) 

(turkishminute.com)

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