Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s accusations against a faith-based movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen amidst a corruption scandal are both uncalled for and amount to “a kind of hate speech” that has the risk of sparking violence against the group, a senior member of the European Parliament has said.
Erdoğan accused the Hizmet movement of being a part of an international conspiracy against his government when a corruption probe that shook his government got under way with a wave of detentions on Dec. 17. Those detained included sons of three ministers who were later removed from the Cabinet as part of a broader government reshuffle. Erdoğan insisted that the corruption probe was a plot against his government masterminded by what he called a “parallel state,” apparently referring to members of the police and judiciary said to be close to the movement. He also blamed the probe on “traitors” or “Hashasins” — a medieval group that carried out political assassinations — all in thinly veiled references to the Hizmet movement.
“No, I don’t think they deserve it,” said Graham Watson, the president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and the former chairman of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament, when asked whether the movement deserves the accusations leveled by the prime minister during an interview for the “Avrupa Masası” (Europe Desk) program that aired on the Samanyolu Haber channel on Friday.
“I think it is very unwise in any country to use those words. Because this is, in a sense, it is a kind of hate speech,” said Watson. “In a sense, it is the speech that will whip people up into a state of mind in which they might commit violent acts.”
Watson also criticized a Turkish Airlines (THY) decision to stop distribution of Today’s Zaman all together and reduce the number of copies of its sister daily Zaman on THY flights. Both Today’s Zaman and Zaman are affiliated with the Hizmet movement.
“How ridiculous to say that Zaman daily will no longer will be distributed on the national airline,” Watson said. “This is a newspaper which is known across the world. It is a newspaper that’s respected across the world for the independence of its reporting, and for the insightfulness of the journalists who work for it. It is this kind of thing, it’s the attacks on the press, attacks on public protesters, hate speech against political opponents which makes many friends of Turkey here in the European Union so very worried at present.”
Watson’s remarks came soon after a visit by Prime Minister Erdoğan to Brussels, which was overshadowed by the corruption scandal and a series of measures subsequently taken by the government, including the introduction in Parliament of a bill to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the reassignment of scores of police officials and judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of the Dec. 17 detentions.
While in Brussels, Erdoğan tried to ease EU concerns over the measures, saying his government remains committed to the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers. He also reiterated the view that the corruption probe was a plot against his government by the “parallel state,” even though subsequent statements from some members of the European Parliament who met with Erdoğan in Brussels revealed that many European officials remained unconvinced. Erdoğan, on the other hand, said that the EU was receptive when he explained that the probe was a work of the parallel state that had nothing to do with corruption.
Watson, like other members of the European Parliament, countered Erdoğan, saying Erdoğan “was told very clearly that there is serious concern about Turkey actually moving away from compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria, which Turkey would have to meet to join the European Union, rather than moving towards them.”
“I think the prime minister will have gone away with a very clear view of growing concern in the EU about what is happening domestically in Turkey,” he said.
According to Watson, if Erdoğan really wants to show that there is such a conspiracy, “then the best way to do that is much greater openness and transparency.”
“What he is effectively doing is saying that there is no corruption in government at all, none of his ministers or any of their families has ever done anything wrong; there is just a conspiracy against them. Well, let’s see the evidence. And, sadly, I think if the way you proceed is to sack the public officials who bring the charges against your ministers or their families, then very few people are going to have credibility in what you are doing,” he said.
The Liberal politician, from Britain, also criticized Erdoğan giving instructions to ambassadors to tell their foreign interlocutors the government narrative of the events.
“Ambassadors are generally fairly intelligent people; they know the limits of diplomacy,” he said, adding that he has not been contacted by the Turkish ambassador to discuss the latest developments in Turkey. “And I dare say, he will take with a pinch of salt, as we say in English, the instructions he has been given,” he said.
Lamenting the reversals in Turkey’s reform drive, Watson said it was getting more and more difficult for European supporters of Turkey’s membership to press for this cause. He recalled that European liberals used to see him as “a liberal reformer leading his country forward,” and when asked how they see him now, he said: “I am afraid we no longer put him in that category. We now see him as somebody who seems to be afraid of any public opposition, who seems to be out to silence public protest, to act against journalists or media organizations who criticize him and even to act against the political opposition at home.”
But despite the deepening concerns, he said that he did not expect the EU to decide to suspend accession talks with Turkey and that the government can still convince the concerned Europeans that it’s back on the right track by taking actions such as pushing for a new constitution.
“That would help to calm the fears of those who want Turkey in the European family but fear that in fact it is looking increasingly like some other countries in the Middle East,” he said.
Source: Todays Zaman