US House resolution urges Turkey to uphold media freedom, rights

A non-binding resolution, H.RES. 279, backed by 30 members of the US House of Representatives is urging Turkey to immediately andquotlift restrictions on freedom of expressionandquot and respect universal human rights, adding fuel to already tense relations between the US Congress and Turkeyand’s embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The proposed resolution, sponsored by Rep. Alan Grayson, was introduced in the House last week. Congressional sources said it would be debated in the Committee on Foreign Affairs on June 2. It is highly unlikely that the resolution will be approved by the House before a key parliamentary election in Turkey slated for June 7, but it will join a chorus of international rights groups and Western governments expressing deep concern over Turkeyand’s increasingly intolerant stance toward critics.
andquotThe House of Representatives calls on the Government of Turkey to immediately lift restrictions on freedom of expression, including expression online or in social media,andquot the first recommendation of the resolution said, recalling that prominent human rights monitors and the US government have expressed concern about the erosion of freedom of expression under Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) he founded.
The New York Times said in an editorial on Friday that Turkish journalists fear an impending crackdown on the independent media to ensure that Erdoganand’s former party wins the elections. The crackdown would include a takeover of the Zaman and Handurriyet dailies as well as shutting down the Samanyolu and Bugandun TV channels, which are some of the few critical news outlets among Turkish TV networks. andquotThat kind of brute manipulation of the political process would be a serious mistake, further weakening the countryand’s battered democracy and tainting whatever victory might emerge,andquot The New York Times warned.
The editorial echoes the prevailing sense of unease in Washington about Turkeyand’s direction under the leadership of Erdogan, who has escalated his clampdown on critics since corruption investigations came to public attention in December 2013. The House resolution also recalls how Turkish authorities twice blocked Twitter and YouTube ahead of elections and arrested several members of independent media groups on andquotquestionable charges.andquot
The resolution refers to the arrest of Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanli, Samanyolu General Manager Hidayet Karaca along with 14 other journalists last December. All detained journalists were set free pending trial apart from Karaca. Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu is also a prominent journalist who has been arrested. Both journalists remain behind bars without any indictment or a trial date.
The resolution notes that and”respect for universal human rights, especially freedom of expression, is essential to maintain a democratic, open societyand” and urged the Turkish government to fully respect universal human rights consistent with Ankaraand’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)ommitments.
The resolution highlights that the Turkish government and”has increasingly conducted widespread intimidation and manipulation of media, private companies and other civil society actors through a number of means, including active interference in their operations and regulatory action to compel government-friendly outcomes.and”
It added that and”criminal prosecution or intimidation based on overly broad terrorism laws and other measures taken by authorities in Turkey in recent years have been widely criticized as ideologically driven and unusually severe.and” In February 90 members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to raise his voice more loudly to defend Turkeyand’s media freedom.
After Erdogan described the US lawmakers as being andquotfor rentandquot and dismissed the letter as an andquotanti-Turkey [document],andquot another letter to Kerry with similar warnings was sent in March, this time signed by 74 senators. It is unclear how the proposed resolution will affect ties between Ankara and Washington at a time when US diplomats are fighting tooth and nail to get Turkey on board in the struggle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
The two countries have failed repeatedly to kick-start a train-and-equip program for vetted moderate Syrian rebels. Sources say they cannot agree on the objective of the program, which was originally designed to fight against the extremists, not the Syrian regime. The proposed resolution also said it reaffirms the USand’s and”long-standing partnership and friendship with the people of Turkey.and”

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman