Int’l rights groups call on EU to prioritize media freedom, human rights in relations with Turkey

International media freedom and human rights organizations have called on the incoming Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union to place media freedom and human rights front and center in relations with Turkey following the May elections.

“Failure to do so would be a betrayal both of the Turkish public and of the European Union’s values,” rights groups said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won a historic runoff election on May 28 to extend his two-decade rule into a third term as president.

The statement was signed by the International Press Institute (IPI), Articolo 21, the Association of Journalists in Ankara (GC), the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Danish PEN, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Freedom House, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), OBC Transeuropa  (OBCT), PEN International, PEN America, PEN Canada, PEN Norway, the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project (TLSP).

“The capture of mainstream media has been backed by a mass crackdown on independent media, including the arrests and prosecutions of thousands of journalists in the years since the failed coup of 2016,” the groups said, adding that “The police routinely arrest journalists at demonstrations and prevent them from reporting.”

Most recently, a Turkish court ruled to arrest journalist Merdan Yanardağ, editor-in-chief of the Tele 1 TV station, on charges of disseminating terrorism propaganda due to his televised remarks about Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“The isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan has no place in the law. It should be lifted. He is unable to even meet with his family [members] and lawyer. … Öcalan is an extremely intelligent person who reads a lot of books and correctly understands … politics,” Yanardağ had said.

It is common for journalists in Turkey, which has a poor record on freedom of the press, to face threats, physical attacks and legal harassment due to their work.

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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