The EU and Turkey: Implications of the 'one in, one out' deal

Olivia Rutter

15 Apr 2016

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April 4th saw the first boats bringing migrants deported from Greece back to Turkey under the controversial EU-Turkey ‘one in, one out’ deal. Despite Angela Merkel hailing the deal as a ‘breakthrough’1, many have condemned the realpolitik approach to an issue that directly affects so many human lives.

The EU has been feeling strained under the pressure of the Syrian refugee crisis, which saw over 1 million people come to Europe in 2015, many through Greece, a country that continues to grapple with economic instability.

The deal with Turkey amounts to the EU paying Turkey to take the problem away, offering €3 billion, sped up visa processes for Turkish citizens, and renewal of negotiations for Turkey’s entry into the EU. The international NGO community has widely condemned the deal, pointing out that the deal flies in the face of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

By striking this deal with the Turkish authorities, the EU is effectively legitimising the conduct of the Turkish state when it should be condemning it and demanding reform. The Turkish government has become increasingly oppressive and tending towards authoritarianism under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, cracking down on freedom of expression, through escalating attacks on anyone critical of the government. As the conflict in the South East of the country surges, the Erdogan government are doing all they can to prevent reporting on what is happening there, increasing concerns about abuses of human rights in conflict affected areas.

The dominant party in Turkey, the AKP has increasingly diminished fundamental rights in the country since 2013. The catalyst was a corruption scandal which ultimately pitted Erdogan against his former ally, Fetullah Gülen, who, un-coincidentally, has strong ties to the Zaman newspaper, recently taken over by the Turkish government. The scandal exposed the alleged shady goings-on of many of Turkey’s elites, including Erdoğan’s own son, setting him on the warpath, and ultimately leading to a rapid consolidation of state power. The legal system and law enforcement are no longer independent, and the majority of the press is either controlled by the state or else being systematically intimidated into acquiescence. As history has shown, taking over the press and media in a country is one of the most powerful ways a government can maintain control and hide its misdeeds from both its people and the outside world.

Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Şık recently released a report, Journalism Under Siege, detailing the extent to which journalism has already been attacked in Turkey. Since 2013, the Turkish government has steadily backtracked on initial progressive reforms. Press freedom has been significantly reduced, eliminating opportunity for opposition to the AKP government and silencing human rights defenders.

The Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which took effect in 2005, is used to supress freedoms when economic manipulation won’t work. Some of the offenses in the TCK that will land you in jail include:

  • Insulting a public official (or the president),
  • Indecency,
  • Praising a crime or criminal (which might become more common as increasingly any slight criticism of Erdoğan seems to have become a crime), 
  • Violating the unity of the state, 
  • Announcing information relevant to state security and political interests. 

Şık’s report notes that it has also become common practice for journalists critical of the government to be jailed as accused ‘terrorists’, with 300 prosecutions against journalists in the last year alone.

Erdoğans’s public attacks on freedom of expression are far from subtle; they seem more like material for an unfortunately prescient parody rather than real statements by a political leader. He has called books more dangerous than bombs, labelled social media the “worst menace to society” and openly threatened newspaper editor Can Dündar during a televised interview, saying that he would “pay a high price” for writing a story, in which he alleged that the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) was smuggling arms.2 Dündar was arrested with Erdem Gül shortly after, and both were charged with terrorism and imprisoned for 92 days, although life sentences were sought and the case is ongoing.

With an increasingly censored and government-controlled press, the Internet has become one of the last strongholds for free speech in the country. It also offers a platform for opposition journalists who have lost their jobs as the authorities have cracked down on the press. If this is what the administration is doing in the open, what will it accomplish if it can effectively control not only its local press, but prevent independent voices from sharing information on the Internet? This is just a small sample of the violations of freedom of expression detailed in Şık’s report, and just the tip of the iceberg of human rights violations being committed against the people of Turkey.

The refugee crisis has become a powerful bargaining chip for Turkey. Where the EU once could dangle membership as an enticement for Turkey to increase rights and freedoms, the body now seems willing to ignore their further deterioration in exchange for relief.

While the EU must continue to find solutions to mitigate the miserable conditions refugees are facing, this current plan causes more human suffering than it prevents. Ignoring Turkey’s increasing violations against its own population threatens the standard of freedom of expression worldwide, setting the example that the EU is willing to trade human rights for monetary relief. People fleeing for their lives shouldn’t be reduced to chess pieces, nor should the EU overlook human rights violations for political expediency.

 

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(1) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/08/european-leaders-agree-outlines-of-refugee-deal-with-turkey

(2) http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/cumhuriyets-editor-in-chief-to-pay-heavy-price-says-turkish-president-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=83269&NewsCatID=338

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