Browsing the news recently, I read that Ukraine looks to Turkey with regards to the process of joining the European Union. This surprised me at first, given that Turkey's accession history is not an overly successful one. Turkey has been an associate member of the European Economic Community, an applicant to the EU, since 1963, asking to accede in 1987. In 1995 Turkey signed a Customs Union agreement with the EU and was officially recognised as a candidate for full membership in 1999.
Currently out of the thirty-five chapters of the acquis communautaire that must be successfully negotiated between the European Commission and Turkey, two did not require negotiation, one is completed, and seventeen are frozen (out of which eight were frozen in response to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus in 2006).
On 20 June 2013, Germany blocked the start of new round of accession talks as a reaction to Ankara’s crackdown on mass demonstrations around Gezi Park, Istanbul.
With the current corruption crisis in Turkish government - which touches the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally - serious progress in the talks seems unlikely at the moment. The situation is indeed dire for Mr Erdoğan – his son was accused of corruption and money-laundering. Similarly, sons of two ministers in the government were accused of involvement and said ministers had to step down.
This is not what the Prime Minister is doing, though. Instead, his party is putting forward law reforms that will restrict the freedom of expression in Turkey even further. After these reforms, the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB) will be the authority deciding about what is a breach of privacy online and, consequently, can impose a URL-based blockade. It will proceed without the need for a court order or a complaint. TIB is an executive board under direct command of the Prime Minister. At the same time, any court investigation regarding the workings of TIB would require the PM’s authorization, which make such inquires very unlikely. The bill was approved by President Abdullah Gül despite the concerns voiced by many, including Amnesty International.
It should be remembered that even before these changes, the internet in Turkey was not exactly free. Same goes for the media in general. Turkey is persistently ranked among the countries with the highest numbers of media workers in jail. According to Bianet, an independent press agency based in Istanbul, in the last year fifty-nine journalists and twenty-three publishers were arrested, out of which fifty-six journalists and all of the publishers were jailed due to Turkey’s Anti-Terror Act and the Turkish penal code’s articles related to “terror organizations”.
One of them was sentenced to life without parole, two to life sentences and the rest to various shorter prison sentences. In total, they were charged with fines amounting to 2,626,600 liras (863,958 Euros). Thirty-four out of fifty-nine and all of the publishers were from Kurdish media. During the Gezi protests (between May 27 and September 30) at least 153 journalists were injured and thirty-nine detained; three of them – arrested. According to Reporters Without Borders, in February 2012 the website engelliweb.com provided a list of 15,596 sites suspended by Turkish authorities. Today the same site includes a list of 40,733 blocked websites.
There is another law reform that should be noted. The formerly independent Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors was, from February 15, brought under the control of the Ministry of Justice and the entire staff was dismissed. It is suspected that this law was designed to block further investigations into possible corruption in government.
On March 30 there will be local elections in Turkey. It is suspected that the ruling party, AKP, may lose control over Istanbul and Ankara. That would be bad prognosis for general elections in 2015, as Istanbul is populated by about 20% of Turkey’s citizens.
Bohdan Yeremenko, former Ukrainian consul in Ankara, said, “The government opened up […] to the people and increased transparency. We don’t have that in Ukraine” – this might be true but at the same time Turkish government took measures to restrict freedom of expression and independence of the judiciary system. I hope this is not something the Ukrainian government will see as beneficial.
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