EU report strongly criticizes Turkey over judicial independence, press freedom

The European Union strongly criticized the way the Turkish government handled allegations of corruption in December 2013, expressing concerns about the independence of the judiciary and increased pressure on the media.

In its annual progress report disclosed on Wednesday, the EU said “the response of the government following allegations of corruption in December 2013 has given rise to serious concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers.”

“The widespread reassignments and dismissals of police officers, judges and prosecutors, despite the government’s claim that these were not linked to the anti-corruption case, have impacted on the effective functioning of the relevant institutions, and raise questions as to the way procedures were used to formalise these,” the report added.

The EU underlined that “it is crucial that the investigations into corruption allegations are properly conducted in full transparency and the operational capabilities of the judiciary and the police are assured.”

The report also addressed the growing woes related to press freedom in Turkey, a country that was described as “a strategic partner for the EU,” recalling government attempts to ban access to social media sites including YouTube and Twitter that were later overturned by the Constitutional Court.

It said pressure on the press in Turkey leads to a widespread self-censorship, reflecting a restrictive approach to freedom of expression. It also said the exercise of freedom of assembly is also restricted.

“Turkish legislation and its implementation concerning the right to assembly and intervention by law enforcement officers will need to be brought in line with European standards,” the report recommended.

The EU repeated its earlier suggestion of engaging in a dialogue across the political spectrum and society, stressing that this should be a priority for Turkey.

It also emphasized the importance of reinvigorating the rule of law reform efforts, paying particular attention to the respect of fundamental rights in law and in practice.

Stressing that the EU should remain an important anchor for Turkey’s economic and political reforms, the report stated that it is in the interests of both Turkey and the EU that the opening benchmarks for opening talks on Chapter 23, on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and Chapter 24, on justice, freedom and security are defined as soon as possible, leading to the opening of negotiations on these two chapters.

“Turkey can accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfilment of the benchmarks, meeting the requirements of the negotiating framework and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU. This could provide a significant boost to the negotiation process,” it explained.

The EU pointed out that there have been very serious developments in the region, in particular in Syria and Iraq, and said that makes cooperation on foreign policy issues even more crucial.

“Turkey’s strategic location also underlines the importance of further cooperation in the areas of migration policy and energy security. The value of such cooperation is even clearer in light of the considerable challenges posed by recent developments in our joint neighbourhood, including the Ukraine crisis,” the report highlighted.

It said “active and credible accession negotiations provide the most suitable framework for exploiting the full potential of EU-Turkey relations,” ruling out any alternative procedures with Turkey. It described the accession process as an important tool to promote “EU-related reforms” as well as providing “an important basis for intensifying dialogue on foreign policy and security issues and for strengthening economic competitiveness and trade opportunities.”

“It [accession talks] also helps increase cooperation in the field of energy and on justice and home affairs, including visa/migration policy/readmission,” the EU added.

The EU emphasized that “accession negotiations need to regain momentum, respecting the EU’s commitments and the established conditionality.”

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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