ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The European Union’s foreign policy chief expressed “strong concerns” on Thursday over the continued detentions of academics and activists in Turkey.
Speaking at a news conference after talks with Turkey’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini also called for the release from jail of Turkey’s former pro-Kurdish party leader, in line with a European Court of Human Rights ruling this week.
Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the official overseeing the European Union’s future enlargement, were in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s long-stalled membership bid and foreign policy issues of common interest, including U.S. sanctions on Iran, the refugee crisis and the situation in Syria.
Their visit comes days after Turkey detained a group of academics and activists for allegedly supporting anti-government protests in 2013.
It also follows a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaling that Turkey would not abide by the European court’s ruling calling on the country to release Selahattin Demirtas, citing his prolonged pre-trial detention period. Erdogan’s comments deepened concerns about human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, despite the country’s pledge this summer to undertake reforms to revive the membership bid.
“A strong Turkey means a democratic Turkey,” Mogherini said at the joint news conference with Hahn and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We expressed our strong concerns about the detention of several prominent academics and civil society representatives, including recently.”
“We believe that it is in the interest of Turkey to follow up on the (European Court of Human Rights) decisions,” she added.
Turkey insists that a wave of detentions that intensified following a failed coup attempt in 2016 are a necessary part of the country’s fight against extremist groups and frequently accuses the EU of failing to support Turkey.
“It is our natural right to expect concrete support from the European Union in our fight against terrorism,” Cavusoglu said. “It is meaningless for the EU to defend people who carried out actions to topple the elected government in Turkey simply because they are civil society members.”
Turkey started its EU accession negotiations in 2005 but the talks have stalled over some nations’ opposition to Turkish membership and concerns over the rapid decline of democracy and human rights in the country.