EU COMMISSION vice-president Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament yesterday that Turkey’s human rights abuses are pushing the country further away from Europe.
He said: “The distance between us and Turkey is not decreasing, it is increasing.
“If they want to come closer to Europe — that is what they state — they should improve the situation of the media, of human rights, of civil society.”
Mr Timmermans is a key negotiator of the widely criticised EU-Turkey agreement to stem the flow of refugees to Greece. Human rights and media freedom groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm over the limited tolerance of dissent shown by the authorities in Turkey.
Nearly 2,000 legal cases have been opened against people accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he took office in 2014.
Mr Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, emphasised that Turkey must fully respect all the conditions necessary to secure a visa waiver for its citizens wanting to travel to the EU for short-term leisure or business stays.
“The onus is on Turkey. They have to comply with the 72 benchmarks that are in there. We will not play around with those benchmarks. They are clear, they are legally framed,” he said.
Two opposition journalists were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment yesterday for publishing French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cover featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.
Cumhuriyet columnists Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya were convicted of fomenting “hatred and enmity” but acquitted of “insulting religious values.”
They are expected to appeal against their conviction.