'No human rights policy discount for Turkey' declares top German civil liberties official

Police use tear-inducing agent against demonstrators during a protest over the arrest of journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul in Ankara, Turkey, November 27, 2015. © Umit Bektas
Turkey must improve its human rights record before it can justify admission to the EU, claims Germany’s Human Rights Commissioner Christoph Strässer, adding that under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the situation in the country has "deteriorated" drastically.

Asked whether the EU will make any concessions for Ankara's membership, Strässer replied: “This concern drives me. There can be no human rights policy discount for Turkey. We must not be generous towards Turkey just because presently we cooperate more with it. The EU must stick to its crystal-clear strict rules with respect to human rights and press freedom,” he told Germany's N24 news website.

Turkey first sought EU membership back in 1987, but its bid has made little progress since then, with key issues like fundamental freedoms and the future of Cyprus proving to be major obstacles.

“It seems to me that Turkey is trying to use the situation in Syria and its geopolitical tussle with Russia in order to bring this potential EU membership back on the agenda,” journalist Bryan MacDonald noted, sharing his opinion on Turkish membership in the EU with RT.

“However, I think it is ‘pie in the sky’ - it is just kind words they are getting from the EU because they are useful to NATO and the EU at the moment. I don’t see any possibility that 80 million Turks who are Muslims in a largely Christian EU will ever be allowed to join the organization,” he added.

Facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, EU leaders recently turned to Ankara for help in curbing the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe. Turkey agreed to strengthen its border controls with Greece and in return demanded €3 billion ($3.3 billion) in funding to raise the living standards of 2.2 million Syrian refugees currently living in the country, visa-free travel for Turkish nationals, plus a resumption of negotiations on its long-stalled application to join the bloc.

According to Germany’s Human Rights Commissioner, Ankara is still far from attaining eligibility for EU membership, however.

“We need to repeatedly send a compliance reminder to Ankara. In Turkey, dissenters are punished, and there are attacks against the opposition. As long as there's such a thing, the country doesn't belong in the EU.

If we ignore it, it would be a fatal signal,” Strässer warned.

Ankara has recently come under fire for stepping up its crackdown on journalists, with anti-terrorism laws used to prosecute dozens of Erdogan's critics, bluntly accused of treason.

"The free space of journalists is being limited in an unprecedented way because there is an order from a sultan who hates independence," prominent Turkish columnist Hasan Cemal told Reuters in late October. "Freedoms, rule of law, the right to live democratically are swiftly being eliminated."

Even children in Turkey are not immune to Erdogan’s crackdown. In late October, two boys aged 12 and 13 were accused of ripping up posters of the Turkish leader, which could land them in prison for four years for “insulting” the president.

Erdogan’s regime used “state security” as an excuse to cover up its smuggling of arms into Syria and persecute the journalists who revealed it, the imprisoned editor-in-chief of the Turkish Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dundar, wrote in the Guardian on Tuesday.

“Turkey’s regime not only smuggled guns into Syria, it used ‘state security’ as an excuse to imprison the journalists who reported it,” Dundar wrote.

READ MORE: Turkish officers arrested for ‘treason’ after intercepting weapons destined for Syria

Dundar has been in prison on charges of treason, espionage and terrorist propaganda since the paper released footage, proving Ankara's involvement in smuggling weapons into Syria in 2014 over a month ago. Dundar and Erdem Gul (Cumhuriyet’s senior editor in Ankara) were arrested late last month after the Turkish president filed a criminal complaint, accusing the journalists of allegedly revealing state secrets and aiding terrorists.

Following Dundar’s arrest, up to 1,000 people came out to show support for the journalists and voice outrage over the government's attempts to cover up the weapons scandal by silencing its critics and the press.