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[WATCH] Muscat shies away from condemnation of Turkish clampdown on freedoms

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says the EU’s position on freedom of speech “is clear” as Malta and Turkey sign trade and health agreements 

yannick_pace
Yannick Pace
17 February 2017, 1:37pm
Malta, Turkey leaders quizzed on clampdowns on freedom of expression in Turkey
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said that Malta and the European Union are opposed to anything that impinges on freedom of speech, in replies to questions from MaltaToday on the suppression of journalists and opponents to the Turkish government.

“Obviously the European Union's and our position is critical of anything that does in any way inpinge on freedom of speech and we have made our position clear," said Muscat.

He said that fact that there might disagreements on some issues doesn't mean that there are no issues upon which there is agreement and which can be worked on, adding that it is important for there to more engagement, rather than "issuing condemnations."

"It's obvious that the European Union's and Maltese position is totally in favour of freedom of speech and in favour of non-punitive measures. We all know freedom of speech and journalism are not the best bedfellows for politicians in government, but we believe that the best way to engage is by strengthening freedom of speech," said Muscat.  

The Maltese prime minister met Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim, who signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation on family and social affairs and on health, as well as increased cooperation the maritime and education sector. It was also announced that Malta will be opening an embassy in Turkey.

Yildirim claimed that the Turkish government has faced “exceptional circumstances” since the coup, and when asked by MaltaToday about foreign journalists being prevented from entering the country, said that blacklisted journalists were aiding terrorist groups carry out their attacks.

“In what European country have planes bombarded the parliament and have tanks killed innocent people,” said Yildirim, adding that while freedom of expression and the press were “universal,” it is not acceptable for freedom of media to be abused for terrorist activity.

He said that terrorists had posed as journalists on a number of occasions and that it is important to distinguish between terrorists and “real journalists.”

“If freedom of press and rule of law are so important to the European Union then let us open up discussions on chapter 33 and 24 so that we can respond to anything the European Union has to say,” Yilidrim said about EU membership talks.

Muscat also expressed hope on progress for Turkey – which is already paid to keep asylum seekers from entering Europe – to join the EU customs union during the Maltese presidency of the European Council. He said that “the ball is firmly” within the commission’s court and that there is no outstanding issue preventing progress.

Yildrim urged the commission to speed up the process of granted visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. “We need faster steps on implementing this agreement,” he said. However, replying to a question on the subject, Muscat admitted that the things had changed in the aftermath of the coup.

“The process was looking good before the coup. I understand that the situation in Turkey is that of a government that has been faced with a coup and an increase in terrorism,” he said, noting that both are factors that were not present when the process was initiated.

“Of the 71 criteria, there are seven which are pending, however they are crucial ones,” Muscat said.

He said that the issue of visa-free travel is "not simple and quite complicated," and that the Maltese presidency would aim to make progress that can culminate in an EU-Tukrey summit that would be able to tackle the issue of visa liberalisation.

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Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...
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