EP’s Piri says situation in Turkey worsening as EU expresses concern over measures against HDP

European Parliament's Turkey Rapporteur Kati Piri and EU delegation met with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of main opposition party CHP in Ankara on Thursday.

The situation in Turkey is worsening on every visit, the European Parliament’s (EP) Turkey Rapporteur Kati Piri said during a visit to the critical Cumhuriyet daily with European Union (EU) parliamentarians Elisabetta Pietrobon, Mariska Heijs and Jörgen Siil on Wednesday. She also said on Thursday that if yes-voters prevail in an April 16 referendum in Turkey, the EU will have to make its own assessment on the compatibility of the new governance structure with the Copenhagen criteria. Meanwhile, the EU expressed concern about measures taken against three deputies of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’s Democracy Party (HDP).

The EP Rapporteur Piri and accompanying EU delegation have also had meeting with the representatives from civil society, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally MHP besides of opposition parties the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the HDP in Ankara on Thursday.

After the meetings, Piri said if yes-voters prevail in an April 16 referendum in Turkey, the EU will have to make its own assessment on the compatibility of the new governance structure with the Copenhagen criteria. “The upcoming report by the Venice Commission will provide an important basis for that evaluation,” said Piri in a statement made on Thursday after a fact-finding mission to Turkey Feb. 20-23.

Piri said that in all the meetings she had, the upcoming referendum on the constitutional reform package was a recurring theme. “In this regard, I was glad to hear that the government invited the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] to send monitors to observe the process. With such a possible fundamental change in the country’s governance structure, it is of crucial importance that the public is well-informed and [that] both supporters and opponents of a presidential system have the possibility to put forward their arguments,” added Piri.

“The Turkish population is going through a difficult period: from numerous terrorist attacks, a war in neighboring Syria, a coup attempt that killed 250 people, followed by a state of emergency that left many citizens deprived of their constitutional rights to challenge their dismissals and arrests,” she said in the statement.

“While the challenges the country is facing today would be difficult for any government, the European Parliament, together with the UN and the Council of Europe, has on several occasions expressed its concern about the serious curtailment of fundamental rights,” Piri added.

Recalling the EP decision that called for a temporary freeze of accession talks until the state of emergency is lifted and the government returns to democracy and adherence to the Turkish constitution, Piri also noted that in the coming weeks the EP will give a green light to the start of negotiations on modernizing the customs union.

“Despite the recent tense relations between Ankara and Brussels, I hope we can move forward in the coming months on important matters, such as the visa liberalization process, the joint fight against terrorism and in bringing the war in Syria finally to an end.”

Expressing the fact that the EP’s main focus in assessing a candidate country’s accession process is the respect of fundamental rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, the rapporteur said: “In this regard, Turkey will have to show real progress in the coming time in living up to the commitments it has made when it became a candidate for EU membership. If it does it will find a strong ally in the European Parliament, which has always been a strong supporter of the accession process.”

After her visit to Cumhuriyet daily, Piri has said on Wednesday that it was upsetting to see journalists in jail due to their journalistic activities, stating that it was even worse to see this situation in a country that is in EU accession talks.

According to a report released by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) on Jan. 26, 2017, 191 journalists are either convicted and serving time in prison or jailed in pre-trial, and the most of the journalists have not even seen an indictment against them. The report also stated that 92 journalists are wanted for arrest but remain at large either in Turkey or abroad. The SCF has also said that the number of media organizations seized and shut down by the government has reached 189.

“We have been trying to visit Cumhuriyet daily on every visit to Turkey. But unfortunately, the situation in Turkey is getting worse. Press rights and the treatment against press members are crucial for the European Parliament. Because it expresses the situation of the democracy in a country,” she said.

She also said they observed the actions of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), saying that they were breaching the criterion of the EU.

Piri urged for the lift of the state of emergency, adding that regardless of the outcome of the constitutional referendum, Turkey would not be able to normalize easily.

“I do not believe that Turkey can enter a process of normalization until the state of emergency is lifted, the referendum results are regardless of this. Opposition lawmakers and journalists have been jailed and thousands of people have been dismissed from their duties during the state of emergency, which the government said it would not affect the lives of citizens. There is a terror threat against Turkey, it is clear. But we are worried that mentioning ‘terrorists’ has become easy and their right to defend themselves are not given,” she said.

EU EXPRESSES CONCERNS ON MEASURES AGAINST HDP DEPUTIES

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) expressed concern about measures taken on Tuesday against three deputies of the pro-Kurdish HDP including both of its co-chairs, saying the EU, together with the Council of Europe, is continuing to follow and assess the situation very closely within the framework of its comprehensive engagement with Turkey.

“The full and effective participation of all democratically elected political parties in the legislature is an essential element of Turkey’s international commitments and its status as a candidate country,” said a statement issued by the European External Action Service on Wednesday.

“The EU has repeatedly expressed its concern regarding developments which can weaken the rule of law, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and parliamentary democracy in Turkey.”

While the Turkish Parliament has stripped Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chair of the HDP who was jailed on terror charges in November, of her parliamentary status, a court in eastern Turkey has handed down a prison sentence of five months to jailed HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş on charges of insulting the Turkish nation, republic and state institutions. In a similar development HDP deputy İdris Baluken, who was recently released from jail, was arrested in Ankara on Tuesday after a Diyarbakır court issued an arrest warrant for him.

It was also recalled in the EU statement that the new measures further add to the concerns expressed following the Turkish Parliament’s adoption last May of a law allowing the immunity of a large number of deputies to be removed as well as in the wake of the ensuing detention and arrest of several HDP members of parliament, including its two co-chairs.

Turkey has stepped up its crackdown on Kurdish politicians in recent months. Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, while hundreds of local Kurdish politicians have been arrested on terror charges. There are currently 12 HDP deputies behind bars including the party’s Co-chairs Yüksekdağ and Demirtaş. (The SCF with turkishminute.com) Feb. 23, 2017

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