ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The European Commission is concerned about the detention of journalists in Turkey, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said after 10 journalists and writers were held in a coup plot investigation.
Thursday’s arrests came two weeks after three other journalists were jailed pending trial on charges of ties to a murky ultra-nationalist group known as Ergenekon, alleged to have plotted to overthrow the government.
“The European Commission is following with concern the recent police actions against journalists,” Fuele said in a statement late on Thursday.
In its progress report on EU-membership candidate Turkey, the European Commission had highlighted the high number of court cases against journalists. Many reporters are being investigated over their coverage of alleged plots to topple the government.
Hundreds of people, from military officers to academics and politicians are being tried in those cases, which reflect deep mistrust between the secular establishment and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.
Critics say the party has Islamist leanings and see the Ergenekon investigations as targeting opponents of the government. But Erdogan told reporters on Thursday evening the detentions had nothing to do with the government.
Fuele said freedom of expression and media were fundamental principles which should be upheld in all modern democracies.
“As a candidate country, we expect Turkey to implement such core democratic principles and enable varied, pluralistic debate in public space,” he said.
“Turkey urgently needs to amend its legal framework to improve the exercise of freedom of the press in practice and in a significant manner,” he added.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing the United States was monitoring the case, urging a transparent investigation and an independent, pluralistic media.
“We have concerns about trends in Turkey, as we have indicated publicly. We continue to engage Turkish officials on these developments and we will follow these cases very closely.”
The Ergenekon investigation had fuelled hopes at its outset of an end to the era of military coups, but Turkey was still waiting for an outcome after years of countless detentions, TUSIAD business association head Umit Boyner said.
Turkey’s military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and toppled another government in 1997. However its power has since been dramatically curbed under EU-inspired reforms and further military intervention is seen as highly unlikely.
“How much longer will we wait for democracy, transparency and justice to be achieved? What is the expiry date for the question of what this is all about?” Boyner said in a written statement to the state-run Anatolian news agency.
One of those arrested on Thursday, Ahmet Sik, is already on trial over a book he co-wrote about the Ergenekon investigation.
Sik was writing a book on links between the police and the Gulen Islamist movement, a draft of which was found by police in a raid on a website’s offices two weeks ago, media reports say.
The International Press Institute gave another of the detainees Nedim Sener, its World Press Freedom Hero award last year for a book he wrote implicating security forces in the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
NATO member Turkey has pushed through a series of political reforms with the aim of securing EU membership but rights groups remain critical of its record on freedom of expression.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jon Boyle