ISTANBUL - The European Parliament is preparing to formally warn Turkey against violating press freedom, rebuking its government for last month’s arrests and detention of dozens of journalists who have criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and his ruling Justice and Development Party.
The statement – which officials convening in Strasbourg, France, said would be released Thursday – is being finalized as a Turkish opposition newspaper launches a new satirical magazine.
The government-orchestrated crackdown on independent media outlets included raids December 14. Among the journalists detained were Zaman newspaper editor-in-chief and top television executive Hidayet Karaca.
?The parliament’s major groups have prepared draft statements showing unified opposition to the raids.
The draft text of the Social Democrats’ statement stresses the actions "call into question the respect for freedom of the media, which is a core principle of democracy."
Other political parties in the European Parliament want it noted the raids came one year after police and prosecutors targeted members and associates of the government in a corruption probe. That probe was shut down, with the transfer and suspension of hundreds of officials and police conducting the inquiry.
The parliament’s final text is likely to include concern about the high number of journalists in pretrial detention. Rights groups say nearly 70 journalists are being prosecuted in Turkey. In 2012 and 2013, the country had the world’s worst record for imprisoning reporters.
The raids, which rights activists say is part of the Turkish government’s slide toward authoritarianism, drew international condemnation and concern.
"Media freedom, due process and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement last month, urging Turkish authorities not to "violate these core values and Turkey’s own democratic foundations."
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was "in Turkey’s own interest to clear up any possible doubt over its commitment to basic democratic principles."
Turkey unlikely to back down
The condemnation from Strasbourg is likely draw a response similar to Erdo?an’s dismissal of initial complaints in December.
"We have no concern about what the European Union might say, whether the EU accepts us or not …" he said then, adding, "Please keep your wisdom to yourself."
He said European countries should instead try to find a solution for what he claims is increasing Islamophobia on the continent.
Turkey has been recognized as a candidate for full EU membership since 1999, but has made little progress in joining the bloc. In recent months, Erdo?an’s aides have indicated a lack of interest in full membership.
Turkish officials say the December raids did not breach press freedoms and the journalists scooped up were participants in a coup plot to bring down the government. Many of their media outlets had published conversations recorded in wiretaps by police investigating government corruption and leaked to the press.
Targeted media linked to Hizmet
Most of the newspapers and television stations raided are close to the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, once an Erdo?an ally and now an opponent. Gülen is in exile in the United States, where he leads an Islamic movement calling itself "Hizmet" or "Service."
Last week, Turkey’s ruling party added Hizmet to the country’s list of security threats. Turkey has asked for Gülen’s extradition, a request U.S. officials have said is unlikely to be met.
New satirical publication
Monday’s launch of a satirical magazine called Püff is unlikely to calm the conflict between Erdo?an and Gülen.Editor Abdullah Yavuz Altun said the magazine – a weekly Monday supplement to the widely circulated Zaman newspaper – would take an irreverent look at politics and Turkish life generally.
"Since we will not have solely a political line, people will understand in time that this is not a project to ‘overthrow the government.' ...Satire is about life. Politics is just a variation of that," Altun said in a statement.
He acknowledged there would be limits on the magazine’s satire and the editorial policy would be to stay within "common values and morals." But he said Islamic militants’ massacre last week of cartoonists and others at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has helped the launch team understand the importance of freedom of expression. Twelve people were killed.
"When our plans were under way to launch a satire magazine, I happened to go to Paris and one of the first things I did there was to get a copy of Charlie Hebdo," Altun said. "In Europe, criticism and satire are more aggressive when compared to here. There is not anything that is holy there. Morals are kind of a taboo. Charlie Hebdo's cartoons about our prophet attracted a lot of negative reactions. There were similarly humiliating cartoons in the same magazine depicting Jesus and Moses. That is why some European commentators did not avoid harshly criticizing Charlie Hebdo for this."
Antagonistic view of news media
Erdo?an, in a statement last week, said the Turkish people "strongly condemn the heinous terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris."
But Erdo?an has adopted an increasingly harsh tone toward the press since his August election to the presidency. Speaking at a conference in Ankara on December 26, he defended his government’s actions and warned that more journalists would be arrested in the coming months.
"Those [journalists] in jail make propaganda against Turkey," he said. "Nowhere in the world is the media as free as it is in Turkey. I can confidently say that. The media is so free that acts not allowed even in democratic countries occur in Turkey.
"I personally have experienced this," Erdo?an continued. "My family experiences this. The insults targeting them [my family members] cannot be tolerated anywhere in the world. There is no limit to these insults. Not even in the U.S. or in EU countries is this possible."