EU 'cherry-picking' jailed Turkish journalists - opinion

The European Union discriminates against some jailed journalists in Turkey and the “cherry-picking” enables a crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to Selçuk Gültaşlı, the former Brussels bureau chief of Zaman newspaper.

Europe’s leaders first focus on professionals with European citizenship and then those with dual nationality, such as German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, often holding secret talks for their release, Gültaşlı said in an opinion piece for the EU Observer.

“Foreign ministers and even former prime ministers are involved in these dirty deals,” he said. “This form of 'hostage-taking' has generally paid off.”

Next in the rankings come secular and liberal journalists such as the employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper and figures such as the Altan brothers and Şahin Alpay. Last on the list are Kurdish or Turkish journalists with alleged links or membership of organisations that are labelled terrorists by Erdoğan, such as banned Kurdish groups or the Fethullah Gülen movement, Gültaşlı said.

“The reaction for leftist, liberal or secular journalists is at a lower pitch, but still noteworthy. There are no European ministers' visits to Turkey to get them freed but, nevertheless, European institutions make a lot of noise. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the last resort for justice in Turkey, takes their cases as a matter of priority.”

Then come Kurdish reporters and the Gülenists, he said.

“Erdoğan squarely blames the Gülen movement as the sole perpetrator for the failed coup attempt of 2016 without convincing proof (most in Brussels believe that Gülenists were involved, but it was not Gülen who ordered the coup),” Gültaşlı said. “Despite the lack of compelling evidence, the European institutions are careful not to anger Erdoğan, meticulously omitting references to the movement in their reports and statements.”

At the beginning of February, the ECHR refused the application of Mustafa Ünal, the former Ankara bureau chief of the now shuttered Zaman newspaper, which had links to the Gülen movement, he said.

“Ünal has been in jail for the past 19 months and the evidence presented in the indictment comprises nothing but his articles. Ünal is being tried in the same case with Alpay, and exactly with the same indictment, full of the same charges. Yet the court decided to take up Alpay's application while rejecting Ünal's.”

Vincent Berger, Ünal’s French lawyer in Paris, said the decision was a dangerous message to Ankara - implying that the government could do whatever it wants with this group of journalists, Gültaşlı said.