Brussels has issued an unusually strongly worded statement when it slammed Ankara for its latest crackdown on free press, including Turkish police raids on media outlets, which will harm relations between the EU and Turkey. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and its enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, stressed on Sunday (14 December) the “operation goes against the European values and standards Turkey aspires to be part of”. In clear reference to Turkey’s aspiration to open new chapters in the enlargement talks, they added that “any further step towards accession … depends on the full respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights”.
The criticism from Brussels came after Turkish police raided media outlets close to a U.S.-exiled Muslim cleric, Fetullah Gulen, on Sunday and detained some 30 persons, including journalists, top executives and ex-police chiefs in operations against what President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an described as a terrorist network conspiring to topple him. Those arrested were subsequently charged with state subversion, forgery, and slander and accused of being linked to the opposition “Gulenist” movement. The series of arrests come shortly after the country’s parliament passed a new law which provides police with the right to detain people on grounds loosely defined as “reasonable suspicion”. They also come ahead of the one-year anniversary of The 17 December Scandal, when officials linked to the US-based Islamic preacher leaked information about corruption in Erdogan’s family and inner circle.
In an attempt to justify his administration’s latest actions, President Erdogan asserted in a speech on Friday that “We have gone into their [Gulen’s supporters] lairs, and we will go into them again … Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account.” Sunday’s arrest were also criticized from leading NGOs, such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the European Federation of Journalists in Brussels. With dozens of its reporters in jail on charges varying from “offending the religious values shared by part of the population” to “denigrating the Turkish nation”, Turkey ranks in 154th place in the world in press freedom rankings, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.