EU concerned by authoritarian trends in Turkey
Published Sunday, June 10, 2012
European Union diplomats are expressing growing concern at what they see as the increasingly militant stance taken by Turkey's ruling government.
They accuse Ankara of using probes into alleged plots against the government as a tool to jail and silence opponents and compromise the country's secular credentials by introducing Quran studies in public schools.
Other measures include lowering the age at which parents can send their children to Islamic religious schools, increasing pressure on those criticizing Islam and restricting abortion.
Turkish authorities accuse the so-called Ergenekon network of being behind several plots to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Dozens of retired or serving senior military figures, intellectuals, lawyers and journalists been put behind bars.
On Thursday Stefan Fuele, European commissioner for enlargement, cited this and other obstacles in the way of Turkey's membership bid while in Istanbul for talks.
"I have used this meeting to convey our concerns about the increasing detention of lawmakers, academics and students and the freedom of press and journalists," he said.
Changes due to take effect when the new academic year starts this autumn also have also ruffled feathers. The Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is introducing Koran lessons.
And from the end of primary school, more parents will be able to opt out of the secular education system and send their children to Islamic religious schools. Previously these schools could not recruit children under the age of 15: now children as young as 11 will be allowed to attend.
There is concern too over plans by state broadcaster TRT to launch a religious channel and proposals for prayer rooms in newly built public buildings such as creches, theaters and even opera houses.
"A series of recent moves show that the conservative tendency has the upper hand and faces no opposition," said Marc Pierini, a former head of the EU diplomatic team in Turkey.
"Civil society exists, but it is hardly audible," said one Ankara-based diplomat.
"The media are for the most part directly or indirectly controlled by the AKP and the opposition is powerless," the diplomat added.