Exiled Turkish journalist urges EU to confront Erdogan

Danny KEMP
Speaking shortly after Turkey detained more than 1,000 people in crackdown against alleged supporters of cleric accused of orchestrating a coup bid last year, exiled journalist Can Dundar, seen in 2016, said the "whole country is under arrest"

The exiled former editor-in-chief of Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet urged EU leaders Wednesday to stand up for their principles and confront President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Can Dundar, who fled to Germany last year while appealing against a near six-year jail term for revealing state secrets, told AFP in an interview however that it could be too late after they abandoned their "ideals" to win a refugee deal with Ankara.

Speaking shortly after Turkey detained more than 1,000 people in a new crackdown against alleged supporters of a cleric accused of orchestrating a coup bid last year, Dundar added that the "whole country is under arrest".

"This is the first time that one president has that kind of power and this is really dangerous. We are fighting against this aggression, all we have is just this - with a pen, it's really difficult to fight against this kind of oppressive government," Dundar said.

"That's why we need Europe, because we are defending the European principles in Turkey -- but unfortunately we see the European leaders at the other side of the fence."

Dundar was in Brussels to address the European Economic and Social Committee, a EU body grouping civil society organisations, just days after the EU's enlargement commissioner said the bloc may have to find a new form of relationship with Turkey, whose EU membership bid has stalled.

The EU has expressed concerns over a referendum to extend Erdogan's powers and over the post-coup bid crackdown, but Dundar said that Europe was now largely powerless due to the "dirty" refugee deal negotiations.

"I guess Europe has lost its chance to have an impact on Turkey, because from the beginning, after the refugee deal, they gave a lot of support to this government, just to stop the refugees coming to European soil and to keep them in Turkey," he said in Brussels.

- 'Stick to your principles' -

He added: "You have to mention the importance of press freedom, democracy, human rights those issues and unfortunately no European leaders have done that. So that's the main problem, I mean just stick to your principles and don't sacrifice them for your daily business."

Dundar said the latest arrests showed that Erdogan was using the coup as an "excuse and an opportunity to enhance his power. That's why the whole country is under arrest, not only his opponents."

He said Turkey had slipped to 155th in the world media freedom rankings published by watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday. A string of other Cumhuriyet journalists have been jailed since Dundar left.

Dundar, who was sentenced by a Turkish court in May 2016 to jail for a story about a shipment of arms intercepted at the Syrian border, and escaped an apparent assassination attempt before sentencing, said he was hopeful he would be able to return home one day.

"The good thing about Turkey is that it's a surprise chocolate so you never know what's in it... I am optimistic, especially after the referendum results when we saw that half of the people were still resisting him," he said.