The European Commission published its annual report on the performance of newly minted and aspiring members of the European Union on Wednesday. Notable among the findings — often seen as a road map for prospective members to follow — was the view that Turkey has not yet met the civil rights requirements to join, particularly regarding press freedom issues.
The report chided Turkey for a “lack of substantial progress” in ensuring the “right to liberty and security and a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression, assembly and association.” The unwritten threat: if Turkey does not secure these bare minimum social freedoms, it will have little hope of joining the EU. But perhaps that is what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in mind. While Erdogan said it was his goal to midwife Turkey’s ascension to the EU when he came to power in 2002, he has since turned away from the West amid the European financial crisis and European skepticism about a majority Muslim nation joining the bloc.
Turkey’s minister of EU relations, Egemen Bagis, responded to the news, claiming the EC’s report placed “too much emphasis was placed on isolated incidents.” Yet history indicates that such rights violations, especially in the realm of press freedoms, are far from isolated. It is estimated that around 100 journalists are currently imprisoned, held on suspicions ranging from conspiring against the government to being aligned with the Kurdish separatist and terrorist group PKK.
One of the most highly-publicized cases was that of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, who were held for more than a year until their release in March. They were accused with being affiliated with the so-called Ergenekon plot — a shadowy group allegedly aimed at overthrowing the government — but lack of evidence, and severe domestic and internal pressure led to their release. But the Turkish government’s war on journalists didn’t start and end with the Şık and Şener cases, as past arrests of journalists in Turkey have been just as suspicious.
A recent report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that the “overall diagnosis” on press freedom in Turkey is “rather bleak” with “more negative than positive developments.”