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EU calls for respect of press freedom as Turkey seizes Zaman newspaper

Media in most member states report on the seizure on Saturday by the Turkish government of the country’s biggest newspaper, Zaman, following a defiant last edition published just before police raided its offices in Istanbul. This event triggered many international reactions. European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn said that as a candidate for accession to the EU, Turkey must respect press freedom and the authorities’ action’s put the progress of the country in jeopardy. “We will observe closely what will continue to happen,” he said, adding that he was “extremely concerned” about the ongoing events.

The Times reports that in spite of Commissioner Hahn’s warning that Turkey’s application for membership to the EU could be rejected as a result, the EU is unlikely to take any action due to the need for assistance from Ankara in stemming the flow of migrants entering Europe. High Representative Vice-President Federica Mogherini reminded the Turkish government to respect the freedom of the press, Italian, Portuguese and Slovenian media write.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera, Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish analyst, considers that HRVP Mogherini’s warning to Turkey will have no effect because “she does not decide on anything”. European Parliament President Martin Schulz stated via Twitter that the seizure of Zaman is yet another blow to press freedom in Turkey and that he will raise this issue at Monday’s EU-Turkey Summit. Martin Schulz told Der Tagesspiegel that the country “is about to miss out on an historic rapprochement with the European Union.”

German media criticise both the Turkish government for its dealing with Zaman and the EU for its restrained diplomatic reaction to what observers see as a major violation of press freedom, even though Il Sole-24 Ore describes the European Commission’s (EC) communique as “strongly-worded”. The US State Department criticised the action against the newspaper. Some media and experts note that the seizure of Zaman is only one among many decisions by the Turkish government affecting freedom of the press.

In De Morgen, Turkish journalist Mete Öztürk writes about freedom of the press in Turkey. He notes that the critical TV channels were shut down and that the main newspapers are now under the control of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, adding that such a situation should worry the EU. In an analytical piece in El País, Juan Carlos Sanz writes that Turkey’s bridges with the very idea of EU’s liberties and tolerance have been broken down. Le Figaro speaks of “a setback for the fragile Turkish freedom of expression.” Landskrona Posten writes in an unsigned editorial that every year, Turkey imprisons even more journalists than China, yet the EU must strive for good working relations with all its neighbouring countries. In international politics, you cannot only talk with your friends, and it is desirable that the EU and Turkey reach an agreement, the article continues.

The seizure of Zaman could indeed have implications in light of the upcoming EU-Turkey summit on the refugee crisis. Reporters Without Borders warns that the upcoming EU-Turkey summit cannot send out the signal that the EU is tolerating human right abuses in exchange for cooperation in the refugee crisis, German media report. Gerd Höhler comments for Handelsblatt that there cannot be a “discount for Ankara for basic rights” in the cooperation with the EU.

Meanwhile, Les Echos notes that Turkish is soon to become an official language of the European Union as the EC estimates that the reunification of Cyprus could be a probability from this year. The Luxembourgish Journalists’ Association states that the freedom of press has been spurned, informs Lëtzebuerger Journal. According to the Association there is no coincidence between the point in time of the state’s attack against the freedom of press and the EU-Turkey summit. It is time Europe to break its silence on the breaches of human rights in Turkey, it adds.

In an International New York Times article, it is suggested that “the [Turkish] government has been emboldened to target its enemies within the country because the international community – especially the European Union and NATO allies – have looked the other way as it seeks Turkey’s support to contain the refugee crisis and pacify the raging civil war in Syria.”



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