Turkey’s troubled human rights record and EU process

Turkey’s troubled human rights record and EU process

Dec. 14 will mark another important day in Turkey’s bumpy EU accession process, as an EU intergovernmental conference will convene to open Chapter 17 on economy and monetary policy, nearly two years after Turkey opened the last one. Chapter 17 will be the 15th chapter Turkey has been able to open out of 35, with only one chapter provisionally closed so far.

This conference will be followed by the EU Council Summit on Dec. 17, during which Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will be able to hold a meeting with eight EU countries having similar positions in receiving more Syrian refugees. 

The joint statement issued by Turkey and the EU on Nov. 29 envisaged intensified political dialogue between the parties on issues concerning both sides, like migration, energy, foreign policy, etc. In addition, growing optimism for the settlement of the decades-old Cyprus issue in early 2016 puts an added value to this conciliation between Ankara and Brussels, as the resolution of this problem will completely change the nature of Turkey’s accession process to the EU for the good. 

On the domestic political side, Turkey’s new government outlined a comprehensive reform package on Dec. 10, detailing a governmental plan to be implemented within the next three, six and 12 months. Plus, the Reform Action Group met under the leadership of Prime Minister Davutoğlu and with the participation Turkey’s foreign, EU, interior and justice ministers for the first time since the government was formed. 
Davutoğlu had already said this government would be a reformist one and Deputy Prime Minister Lütfi Elvan will be responsible for coordinating and monitoring the reform process. Obviously, these are positive promises to be observed but developments in the field of democratization and human rights break hopes to this end. 

The arrest of prominent journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief of daily Cumhuriyet, has already become a very symbolic development, depicting a very contradictory picture from what the government is trying to portray. 

Unfortunately, the state of freedom of the media and of expression has already hit bottom, with fears that this pace of deterioration will make things even worse in the future. There are only a few mainstream independent media organizations left, while a good majority of the entire social and traditional media is being controlled by pro-government circles. While the public’s right to get sound and objective information is entirely curbed, independent journalists feel enormous pressure doing their jobs.    
These are times when journalists in Turkey discuss what they can do best to protect their freedom of expression and what mechanisms they can mobilize to ensure that their colleagues in prison - Dündar and Gül, in this case - feel more comfortable in their cells. 

As already stated in this column, freedoms can only be measured to the extent they can be implemented and observed. The government’s effort to bring the democratization process back on its agenda is surely a positive development but this effort should be accompanied with a mentality change. Statements from senior governmental officials arguing that Dündar and Gül were jailed because of their non-journalistic activities willfully aiding an armed terrorist organization and of espionage are not good signs of this mentality change. 

We should restart discussions about democratization process and implementation of all fundamental rights and freedoms on the day when there will be no any journalists in prison because of journalism-related activities.