ANKARA (Rahnuma) : The EU’s foreign policy chief has expressed “strong concerns” over the continued detentions of academics and activists in Turkey.
Speaking at a news conference after talks with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Federica Mogherini also called for the release from jail of former pro-Kurdish party leader, in line with a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling this week.
Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the official overseeing the EU’s future enlargement, were in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s long-stalled membership bid and foreign policy issues of common interest, including US sanctions on Iran, the refugee crisis and the situation in Syria.
Their visit comes days after Turkey detained a group of academics and activists for allegedly supporting anti-government protests in 2013.
It also follows a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaling that Turkey would not abide by the European court’s ruling calling on the country to release Selahattin Demirtas, citing his prolonged pre-trial detention period.
Erdogan’s comments deepened concerns about human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, despite the country’s pledge this summer to undertake reforms to revive the membership bid.
The ECHR’s rulings are legally binding, but there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them.
“A strong Turkey means a democratic Turkey,” Mogherini said at the joint news conference with Hahn and Cavusoglu.
“We expressed our strong concerns about the detention of several prominent academics and civil society representatives, including recently.”
“We believe that it is in the interest of Turkey to follow up on the (ECHR) decisions,” Mogherini added.
Turkey insists that a wave of detentions that intensified following a failed coup attempt in 2016 are a necessary part of the country’s fight against extremist groups and frequently accuses the EU of failing to support Turkey.
“It is our natural right to expect concrete support from the European Union in our fight against terrorism,” Cavusoglu said.
“It is meaningless for the EU to defend people who carried out actions to topple the elected government in Turkey simply because they are civil society members.”
Turkey started its EU accession negotiations in 2005 but the talks have stalled over some nations’ opposition to Turkish membership and concerns over the rapid decline of democracy and human rights in the country.
While Demirtas has been convicted in one of his cases, he remains in prison facing several more terrorism-related charges, mostly for other speeches he gave, that could see him sentenced to up to 142 years in jail if found guilty.
Demirtas’ lawyer said on Tuesday that he had applied for the politician’s immediate release, saying “every second Mr Demirtas remains jailed is a restriction on freedom.”