Monday 18 November 2019

Juncker: We mustn't scold Turkey over human rights

Escorted by police, migrants move through fields after crossing from Croatia, in Rigonce, Slovenia yesterday.
Escorted by police, migrants move through fields after crossing from Croatia, in Rigonce, Slovenia yesterday.

Raziye Akkoc in Brussels

Europe should not "harp on" at Turkey about its record on human rights, the European Commission president has said, as he admitted the EU was dependent on the state for solving refugee flows.

Jean Claude-Juncker told the European parliament yesterday that Turkey was needed to solve the migration crisis, despite admitting its shortcomings on human rights and press freedom.

"We face two possibilities and these are the options. We can say that EU and the European institutions have outstanding issues with Turkey on human rights, press freedoms and so on. We can harp on about that but where is that going to take us in our discussions with Turkey?" He added: "We know that there are shortcomings but we need to involve Turkey in our initiatives. We want to ensure that no more refugees come from Turkey into the European Union."

Mr Juncker urged member states to provide more funding for Turkey to tackle the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. "Turkey needs at least €3bn in order to try to combat this crisis and we have some €200m in our budget," he said.

"Member states are going to have to step up to the plate and provide considerably more funding - a large percentage at the very least of the €203m shortfall to which I alluded earlier, which we absolutely need imminently."

He also said the EU must speak to Turkey about visa liberalisation and accession into the union. His comments on the first day of plenary, the monthly gathering of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, came less than a week before a critical election in Turkey - the second in six months. On Monday, the government seized the Koza Ipek media group, which a press freedom watchdog described as "alarming".

It was the latest in the government's crackdown on organisations linked to Islamic preacher, Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, now foe, of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president.

The media group, which owns newspapers such as 'Bugun' and 'Millet' and television channels such as Kanalturk, was described as another attack on critical media by the International Press Institute (IPI).

"This move is alarming, particularly given its timing, and it appears to be another example of the pressure on media that IPI and other press freedom groups warned about during last week's emergency press freedom mission to Turkey.

"Not only does silencing critical media on the eve of an election send a chilling message to journalists, it suggests a distrust of voters' ability to filter information and make their own decisions," the watchdog said in a statement to English-language Turkish newspaper, 'Today's Zaman'.

Yesterday, police forcefully entered Koza Ipek's headquarters in Ankara and protesters were tear-gassed outside the building, Bloomberg reported.

When asked about the seizure later in the day, Alexander Winterstein, deputy chief spokesman for Mr Juncker, said: "We do not comment on these internal developments."

Jake Hanrahan, the Vice News journalist who was arrested by Turkish authorities in August, attacked Mr Juncker's comments as "disgusting".

Mr Hanrahan was imprisoned with colleagues Philip Pendlebury and Mohammed Ismael Rasool. Rasool is still in a Turkish prison despite not being charged. "For somebody to talk as if human rights are not important is disgusting.

"How on earth can someone say that, especially someone in his position. Surely that should be at the centre of his decision-making?"

The journalist added that he saw first-hand the horrible conditions refugees faced in one Turkish detention centre. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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