The International Press Institute (IPI) today sent a letter to the European Council President Charles Michel ahead of the European Council meeting on March 25 and 26 where EU-Turkey relations will be discussed. The letter calls on Michel and the European Council to insist on an improved human rights record in Turkey, especially in press freedom and freedom of expression, as a prior condition to any improvement in diplomatic relations. IPI shared the letter also with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Commission Vice-President and High Representative Josep Borrell, who is expected to submit a report on EU-Turkey relations ahead of the EU leaders’ meeting. According to preview information gained by local news on the report, Borrell’s report is expected to describe the domestic situation in Turkey as “deteriorating”. However, the detailed scope of the report remains unpublished.

Read the full letter below.

His Excellency Mr. Charles Michel
President of the European Council

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, we are writing to you ahead of European Council meeting on March 25 and 26 where EU-Turkey relations are on the agenda as part of the discussions on the Eastern Mediterranean.

IPI calls on the European Council to insist on concrete and measurable improvements in Turkey’s domestic human rights record and specifically an end to the targeting of independent media and restrictions of press and media freedom as a prior condition to any improvement in diplomatic relations.
Currently, there are at least 67 journalists in prison in Turkey, 53 of whom were convicted mostly on terrorism-related charges in retaliation for their journalistic work. Defamation charges for insulting public officials including President Erdoğan are also commonly used to criminalize journalism. Since the beginning of 2021 alone, IPI has recorded that Turkish courts sentenced 14 journalists to a total of 45 years and 8 months. Since the 2016 coup attempt journalists have been sentenced to a total of 1430 years of prison. Furthermore, the independent press in Turkey has been muzzled to such an extent that the space available for critical, investigative journalism today is almost non-existent.

The European Commission’s annual progress report on Turkey provides detailed documentation of the range of violations of press freedom and human rights and the rapid deterioration in the country. Turkey’s domestic human rights record is as much a long-term threat to the European Union’s security as the immediate concerns over Cyprus and competition around oil drilling.

During the March meeting, the European Council will review the December 10 and 11, 2020 Conclusions adopted by the Council. Regrettably, while the December 2020 Conclusions requests Turkey to comply with international agreements regarding unilateral drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, there is no mention of the countless violations of human rights or freedom of the press and no requirement for their improvement as a condition for improved relations.

Any effort to resolve tensions related to Turkey’s drilling off Cyprus without addressing the ongoing deterioration not only of the rule of law but also of any system of checks and balances in the country, which are vital to ensure people in Turkey can hold their government accountable for the serious breaches of international treaties, will inevitably remain short-lived.

It is well known that successful economic and diplomatic relations must be based on transparency and accountability of all parties involved. However, journalists who had been investigating and covering Turkey’s economy in a critical manner are regularly targeted with lawsuits for “undermining Turkey’s financial stability”. Recent examples include the prosecution of six journalists, including two reporters for Bloomberg News, for “defying the Law on Capital Market”; as well as the numerous lawsuits filed against prominent investigative journalist Çiğdem Toker in retaliation for her coverage of corruption in public tenders for million-lira projects.

We urge the European Council to take the opportunity of this meeting to send a strong message that press freedom and fundamental rights are central to the EU’s principles underlying its foreign policy and that improved relations, economic or otherwise, can only be offered on the basis of Turkey’s respect for press and media freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Trionfi
Executive Director
International Press Institute (IPI)