BRUSSELS – When suicide bombers killed at least 97 people at a rally of pro-Kurdish activists and civic groups advocating peace between the Turkish government and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Ankara on October 10, the government’s response was as rapid as it was troubling. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu swiftly imposed a temporary broadcast ban on images of the terror attack, and many in the country reported that Twitter had been blocked on some of the most widely used mobile networks, including Turkcell and TTNET.
Preserving the privacy of victims is a legitimate goal; but broad media bans in Turkey have become a serious concern. It is telling that Sellahatin Demirtas, the leader of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), had to rely on YouTube after the bombing, because he was not interviewed on any major news network, even though HDP members who had been elected to parliament in June were among the victims of the attack.
As Turks head back to the polls on November 1 (the June election resulted in a hung parliament), the Turkish government should be moving to resume peace talks with the PKK, which must also agree to a ceasefire. At the same time, the European Union must not remain silent regarding the government’s crackdown on civil liberties, especially on freedom of expression and the right to information. Taking a stand now would not only send a clear message to Turkey’s governing authorities; it would also provide a direct indication to Turkey’s population that Europe expects their rights and freedoms to be respected. The demonstrators’ calls for peace should be heard and echoed.
The rule of law and fundamental freedoms in Turkey have been severely tested in recent years. Turkey has long been among the countries with the highest number of imprisoned journalists; but, in the months since the June election, the media have come under unprecedented pressure.