BBC called it plainly ‘the attack of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’. The attack was against a French journalist, Laurent Richard who dared to ask a question Erdoğan did not like. He was immediately accused of speaking with the ‘mouth of FETÖ’, the faith-based group Erdoğan blames for the failed coup of last year- the group denies any involvement.
Blaming ‘FETÖ’ for everything that goes wrong has been a national sport for Erdoğan and his comrades. ‘FETÖ’ is now the ultimate panacea to cover up anything from corruption to extra-judicial killings.
Thanks God, Mr. Richard is a French journalist working in France. He would, most probably, be in jail by now as one of the Turkish-origin French journalists commented at French channel BFM, ‘he would be arrested while leaving the studio’. At best, the case for insulting President would already be lodged against him. European leaders who have again started rolling red carpets for Erdoğan should not forget that Richard’s Turkish colleagues are just not as lucky.
Erdoğan met his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris during his first foreign visit of 2018 a day before his foreign minister had talks with his German colleague in the German city of Goslar.
Aware of his international isolation, Erdoğan will not miss any opportunity to change the perception at least for domestic consumption by handing out lucrative tenders as he did in France.
I will not be surprised if Deniz Yücel, the Turkish-origin German journalist who is in jail for the last ten months without an indictment, is released soon as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has already started exchanging pleasantries with his German homologue Sigmar Gabriel. The two ministers have vowed to end the feud and mend the relations. Gabriel, who hosted Çavuşoğlu at his home, said the two had “given ourselves the task to do everything to overcome the difficulties in German-Turkish relations”.
Do not get me wrong: Yücel should be freed right away and he should not have been arrested in the first place. However, his Turkish colleagues do not have a European foreign minister who would shuttle between Ankara and their capitals for their release.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel should not be satisfied with only the release of their citizens. Freedom of expression is stifled in every way possible in acceding candidate Turkey even if they are released and hopefully they are. But that will not change the situation on the ground.
For Erdoğan, diplomacy is one-way street and it is always his message that should be heeded, not his counterpart’s. On his way back, Erdoğan was asked by his handpicked journalists to comment about French President’s proposal that options other than membership should now be discussed in relations with Turkey. He replied exactly like this: ‘I did not want to understand what he tried to mean. I preferred to focus my attention that he would get my message. What I want to say, he should rather understand me very clearly’.
In a new emergency decree recently, Turkish government now made it obligatory for all convicts and suspects in pretrial detention that committed crimes against the constitutional order to wear jumpsuits. EU had already criticized the move when it was a draft.
But the most worrisome part of the decree was the immunity given to those civilians who participated in the suppression of the July 15 coup and to those who would participate in the future possible similar acts of suppressing rebellion. “Erdoğan regime has welcomed private participation in witch hunts against Erdoğan enemies. Now pro-state vigilantism is formally legal,” tweeted Timur Kuran, a professor of economic and political development at Duke University. Others reacted that this was last nail in the coffin of the rule of law in EU-candidate Turkey.
According to the Turkish Justice Ministry, Erdoğan’s lawyers has opened almost 14 cases on a daily basis in 2016 against those who allegedly insulted the President. Despite repeated calls from EU, Turkey has so far refused to amend its anti-terror law, which is used against not only terrorists but also critics from all different backgrounds.
Asked by Macron about the jailed journalists, Erdoğan told him that ‘a part of the so-called journalists were just ordinary criminals and most of them were in prison because of terrorism or terrorism-related offences’. According to his own words, he also reminded Macron that Turkey was far more advanced in human rights than many Western countries.
Turkish government has on several occasions declared that it wished 2018 to be the year of thaw in its relations with EU countries. Mending ties would be in the best interest of both parties and its peoples. However, Europeans should not bend Copenhagen Criteria and membership principles to mend ties with a government that keeps towing away Turkey from European Union ideals. Macron and Merkel should not forget that more than 200 ‘so-called journalists’ are in jail and Turkey is, by far, the champion of journalists-jailer in the world.