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Rasak: Bad week for Erdoğan’s EU bid

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IT has been one hell of a week for Turkey as the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-led government has yet given the European Union (EU) more good reasons to keep the country away from joining the union. It   was bad press all through, as the international press broke the news of the arrest of Taraf Daily columnist, Mehmet Baransu.

Such bad publicity is the least thing the country needs right now, with core EU leaders like Germany, France and Britain bent on frustrating efforts at joining the union, which would have presented an opportunity for Turkey to join the economic bloc and boost its chances of expanding an economy that sadly has been on a decline lately.

According to Turkish publication Today’s Zaman published on March 5, members of the European Parliament (EP) have criticised in strong terms the arrest of Baransu, following a request from Istanbul Public prosecutor Gokalp Kokcu over documents submitted to prosecutors regarding the Sledgehammer (Bayloz) coup plot against the government in 2010.

“The case of Mr. Baransu is another example showing that the government of Turkey is trying to control the media and journalists by nearly all means. Even if an investigation is necessary, this would never justify imprisoning him. Obviously it is about threatening journalists in Turkey. Freedom of the press and pluralism are important indicators of democratic development. In Turkey, those indicators show very negative development,” Rebecca Harms, the co-chairwoman of the Greens Group in the EP, joined in the mass criticism of the arrest decision told Today’s Zaman.

Other EP members that condemned the arrest did not mince their words as they expressed concerns, raising fears of human rights violations.

It was observed that prior to the Monday arrest, Baransu had been detained several times in recent months, owing to the fact that he played a key role in exposing several illegalities that thrived among the ruling class in the country.

Ska Keller, member of the EP and vice chairman of the Greens, spoke out against the decision to place Baransu behind bars, telling Today’s Zaman: “I’m very concerned about the arrest of Mr. Baransu. Yet    another journalist has been detained for very dubious reasons. The recent arrests of a large number of journalists don’t shed good light on press freedom in Turkey.”

Similarly, Jeroen Lenaers, a member of the EP from the Christian Democrats of Netherlands and former advisor of ex-EP Turkey Rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten, expressed his concerns about the arrest of Baransu, saying: “In a functioning democracy, journalists have the right and duty to scrutinize the government and to guarantee the necessary checks and balances. Journalists need to be able to perform their task in an atmosphere of freedom and without fear of arbitrary arrests. In this regard, the arrest of Baransu is deeply worrying.”

A German daily Tagesspiegel ran the headline “Anti-government journalist arrested in Turkey.” BGN News wasted no time in describing the negative impact the arrest would have on Turkey in the comity of nations as its headline screamed: “Journalist Mehmet Baransu’s arrest a ‘new low point’ for Turkey.”

For DW, it was : “Turkey Police arrest Erdogan critic Baransu again”, with the article going on to explain that the sole reason for his arrest was because he criticised the president.

For the weekly Der Spiegel magazine, freedom of the press is at risk in Turkey after the police arrested Baransu, adding: “Journalists in Turkey are increasingly being targeted by the judiciary. Many anti-government journalists have recently faced prosecution. Baransu was declared as a ‘traitor’ by Erdoğan for revealing the government’s plan to eliminate the faith-based Gülen movement [also known as the Hizmet movement].”

But that was at the first working day for the week. On Tuesday, it was the Turkish military that made international headline for planned manoeuvres over the Aegean Sea, which Greece claimed would intrude into its airspace and interfere with commercial air traffic. In swift reaction, Turkish Foreign Minister Tanju Bilgic was quoted by the media as explaining that Turkey would not declare a new Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for “ a certain period of time” but was quick to point out that Turkey was willing to resolve the dispute through dialogue.

According to Today’s Zaman, diplomatic sources in Ankara said that Turkey withdrew its notice after pressure from Greece, adding that the notice was not a mistake but a calculated and deliberative move, the same sources said, arguing that the way the manoeuvres were cancelled after pressure from Greece has inflicted serious damage to Turkey’s image at diplomatic platforms.

On Wednesday, it was yet Turkey against the world as it was revealed that Turkish military were eavesdropping on all foreign countries, as revealed by a retired military intelligence head. Former General Staff intelligence unit head, İsmail Hakkı Pekin, had revealed that the Turkish military has been eavesdropping on all foreign countries via military bases, airports and borders.

The news broke on the Haber Türk daily, who reported that Pekin who recently joined Turkey’s ultranationalist Land Party (VP), which used to be known as the Labor Party (İP) revealed in an interview that intelligence does not have the legal authority to wiretap people but that it nevertheless has eavesdropped on foreign countries through 13-14 bases across the country.

“We listen to all foreign countries, including at airports. We also listen at borders,” he was quoted.

Yet another report that would deal a huge blow to Turkey’s EU bid broke on Wednesday when a whistleblower revealed that Erdogan plans to close major opposition parties ahead of elections.

Today’s Zaman reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government are planning to shut down the main opposition parties in Parliament in a bid to win 400 seats in the upcoming general elections on June 7, according to the latest claim by government deep throat“Fuat Avni”.

If this happens, Turkey’s democracy would become a big joke and the EU would not want to welcome an undemocratic country into its fold, yet another big setback for Turkey in a week.

In response to a parliamentary inquiry filed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on Wednesday, Ala said that although he had pledged loyalty to the Constitution as part of the inauguration oath to his current post, he does not recognise the Constitution as it was drafted after the 1982 military coup. “We [the deputies] pledge [loyalty to the Constitution] and abide by it. [However] there is no hurdle for us to call the Constitution ‘bad,’ even if there exist [hurdles to doing so]; we do not recognise it,” said Ala.

Ala went on to say that the Constitution must be replaced as the current version does not ensure that state institutions act according to the national will. Speaking to Today’s Zaman on Thursday, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Dilek Akagün Yılmaz said: “I strongly condemn Ala’s remarks. We are heading towards a dictatorship. In a country where the law is disregarded, arbitrariness prevails. Ala, like the president, prime minister and other ministers, governs the country by disregarding the law.”

This is another development that will make the EU countries distance themselves from Turkey and frustrate its bid to becoming one of them. It is important for Erdogan and his led government to make concerted efforts at resolving human rights issues, press freedom, promoting democratic freedom and restraining its military if they were to make any inroads at being welcomed into the EU family.

• Rasak wrote from Abuja



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