EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said on Friday he was “gravely concerned” by a block imposed on Twitter in Turkey as the government battles a corruption scandal days ahead of elections.
“Being free to communicate and freely choose the means to do it is (a) fundamental EU value,” Füle wrote on his Twitter account.
The vice-chairman of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, German MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, called for the suspension of accession talks following a Twitter ban in Turkey. Lambsdorff, who is also his group’s shadow rapporteur on Turkey, said that negotiation with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no longer necessary.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, the German Liberal said: “I am asking for the suspension of the accession process. Media freedom is a core European value. If Prime Minister Erdoğan fails to understand that, there is no point in negotiating with him anymore. The EU must continue to engage with Turkish civil society helping it to defend basic civil liberties.”
Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, commented on the issue in a press release issued on the group’s website: “Mr. Erdoğan has lost all sense of direction and balance.
Banning a social media network with ten million users in Turkey is nothing short of a blatant attack on freedom of speech.
“Turkey, as a country in the process of accession talks to join the European Union, has a duty to respect fundamental human rights. Freedom of speech is a core right of people and Erdoğan’s authoritarian oppression of it will not succeed.
“Mr. Erdoğan may not care what the international community thinks about him, but the international community cares about the rights of the Turkish people. I recommend he takes a look at article 26 of the Turkish Constitution; emergency anti-terror legislation does not justify curtailing the rights of ten million people.”
Commenting on reports that Turkish prime minister Erdogan has blocked the use of the social media website Twitter, Hélène Flautre, co-chair of the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary committee said, “the move by Prime Minister Erdoğan to block Twitter is an absurd attack on fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey.
This latest anti-democratic maneuver only compounds concerns about the new Internet law, which finds here its first application. There was already major concern about the crisis hitting the democratic institutions in Turkey, with revelations of alleged intervention in media and the judiciary by the government. We would strongly urge the EU to engage immediately with the Turkish authorities to prevent further democratic backsliding ahead of the forthcoming elections.”
Ska Keller, Green member of the European Parliament and member of the delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), added:
“In blocking Twitter, Erdoğan is also blocking the freedom of expression in Turkey. It is a clear attack on democracy with the single aim of silencing all criticism against him. The commission should send out a strong message to the Turkish government that undermining freedom of expression is not acceptable.”
President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz made the following comments after the ban of Twitter in Turkey: “Freedom of expression and information are enshrined in our most basic fundamental rights instruments, be it at the EU or at the Council of Europe level. The European Parliament strives to firmly uphold freedom of expression, and the freedom and pluralism of the media within the Union and beyond. As a member of the Council of Europe and as an EU candidate country, Turkey is no exception.”
“Today is Twitter’s eighth anniversary. Yet, in Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has promised to ‘eradicate Twitter,’ there is no reason to celebrate. I strongly condemn the ban on Twitter in Turkey, which follows from PM Erdoğan’s previous threats against other social media. Prime Minister Erdoğan seems to be waging a campaign against all the media and press that he cannot directly influence or control. This authoritarian drive is a direct attack against freedom of expression in the country. Erdoğan should guarantee freedom of press and freedom of expression not as a favor to the international community, but because this is a right of Turkish citizens and an achievement of all advanced democracies,” Schulz added.
EP President later stated that Erdoğan has entered the upcoming elections in Turkey using a rhetoric of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ true patriotic Turks and foreign agents provocateurs.
“In my eyes, the debate should be on how to bring Turkey forward, with which ideas, which society and which policies.Gagging the Internet, social media and the free press, and politicizing magistrates are not good recipes to make Turkey fit for the challenges of the 21st century, and certainly not the good recipes to bring it closer to the European Union,” Schulz said.
Blocking Twitter and threatening to close social media websites has only added to the many concerns about media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović stated on Friday.
“Websites have been severely restricted by the authorities for many years in Turkey,” Mijatović said, referring to the prohibitive Internet Law adopted in 2007 and further restricted last month. “These measures are devastating to free expression and freedom of the media and they curbs citizens’ right to freely express themselves.”
The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) posted three court rulings and one prosecutorial decision on its website as the basis for blocking Twitter.
“The government should protect and encourage pluralistic discourse both offline and online, instead of stifling it,” Mijatović said, adding, “I call upon the authorities to vacate the court decisions that allow blocking Twitter and restore free public discourse online.”
“Turkish authorities must realize that banning websites, and blaming social media for tensions in the society will only lead to the weakening of freedom of expression, an indispensable element of democracies. While technology will always find ways to circumvent such bans, in the short run such prohibitory approach from the highest authorities threatens free flow of information and citizens’ fundamental right to freely express themselves,” she said.
Mijatović has called for fundamental reforms of laws that allow for the silencing of critical voices in Turkey, among them the Internet Law, which is also known as Law No. 5651.