EU’s Juncker: No progress on Turkey ties while Turkish journalists jailed

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The European Union (EU) and Turkey will see no progress in their relations as long as Turkey holds journalists in prison, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday, Reuters reported.

“Turkey is moving away from its European ambitions of the past, and we are going to have to see what kind of progress Turkey makes in the coming months. But there will not be any kind of progress while there are journalists in Turkish jails,” Juncker told a joint news conference in Bulgaria.

Also on Friday, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn has said in an interview to Germany-based news agency DPA that the ties between Turkey and the EU “should be rendered more realistic.”

Hahn stated that a “strategic partnership” can be formed with Turkey instead of full membership as President of France Emmanuel Macron brought to agenda recently, and that hopefully the EU members will discuss this proposal.

Concerning Turkey seeking to have closer ties with the EU countries, Hahn said that “Just sweet words are not enough. What matters is the facts and these facts haven’t changed yet… There are still tens of thousands of journalists, lawyers, academics and civil servants in prison. There is no change in this situation which is unacceptable in terms of rule of law.”

Hahn criticized Germany’s suggestion to “meet the aids promised to Turkey for Syrian refugees from EU budget,” and stated that “If the member countries want the new expenses to be met from the common budget, then they should say how to provide this fund.”

Rebecca Harms

Meanwhile, Rebecca Harms, together with other Members of the European Parliament and of the EP-Turkey Forum, has issued a statement on Friday concerning the refusal of local courts to respect the ruling of the Turkish Constitutional Court to immediately free journalists and writers Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan from jail.

“We highly welcome yesterday’s Turkish constitutional court’s ruling to immediately release the journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, as their rights had been violated under pre-trial detention for well over a year. This decision constitutes a milestone and a vital step to improve the media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey.

“However, we strongly criticise the local courts refusal to follow the Constitutional Court’s ruling to release the journalists and we call on them to implement the Constitutional Court ruling immediately. If the lower courts do not respect the decision of the Turkish Constitutional court it will result in a further deterioration of Turkey’s constitutional crisis and the erosion of rule of law and the separation of powers.

“Last but not least, we call for the release of all unjustly imprisoned journalists and Turkish citizens.”

The Constitutional Court had ruled earlier on Thursday that jailed journalists Altan and Alpay be released, saying their rights had been violated. İstanbul’s 26th and 13th High Criminal Courts on Thursday evening, however, refused to comply with the order from Constitutional Court for the release of jailed journalists Alpay and Altan.

Lawyer Veysel Ok, who made the application to the Constitutional Court on behalf of Alpay, said the top court’s decision could be a milestone for the trials of journalists in Turkey. “This ruling, which came in the first application after the failed coup attempt, should set a precedent for all trials,” said Ok, adding, “I hope this ruling becomes the first step of a broader right to freedom of expression in the country.”

Altan, a professor of economics at İstanbul University and a columnist known for his liberal views and criticism of the government, and Alpay, a veteran journalist and columnist for the now-closed Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, were jailed in a crackdown on media after an abortive coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 242 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 4, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 215 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 138 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. (SCF with

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