Sedat Ergin, editor-in-chief of Turkish daily newspaper "Hürriyet," said he was accepting Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech Award with "rather mixed feelings." The award honors Ergin’s courageous commitment to freedom of the press in Turkey.
"This award carries a message regarding the state of freedom of expression in my country," Ergin said in the Plenary Hall of the World Conference Center Bonn, adding: “I must point out that a slight bitterness hangs over my feelings.”
"Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental values of humankind," the journalist said. "It is an essential aspect of our existence in human societies." He said that anything that takes away this sine qua non of our existence was against the ideals of humanity and against our very dignity.
In Turkey many renowned journalists and authors have become victims of assassination attempts and terror attacks. "One of my predecessors as editor-in-chief of my newspaper, Çetin Emeç, is also included in this list," Ergin said.
Reports of various institutions and organizations monitoring the human rights situation around the world indicated a general downward trend in regard to freedom of speech, Ergin said.
"Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government is under greater threat than at any point in the last 25 years," Ergin said. "Issues related to freedom of expression are increasingly apparent not only in third world countries, dictatorships and monarchies, but also in countries claiming to be democracies. The European continent is no longer immune to this authoritarian tendency."
"We are going through times where xenophobia, intolerance, racism are rapidly gaining ground," Ergin also said.
The European project, as well as "the values of democracy, the rule of law, an open society and a market economy, has lately entered a period of stagnation, and even crisis," the laureate said. "The measures taken about the refugees are moving Europe away from its own values. We are going through times where xenophobia, intolerance, racism, hate speech, Islamophobia are rapidly gaining ground."
European institutions no longer exert the same kind of influence when it comes to preserving the values and ideals defining Europe’s identity, Ergin said. "European institutions are also losing their moral authority."
Referring to recent developments in Turkey, the journalist criticized the EU for stagnation in the reform process in his country and Germany and France for changing their opinion on full EU membership for Turkey. "When Turkey’s candidacy for full membership was announced in 1999 and when it was decided to commence negotiations, I remember the power of the wave of optimism that swept across Turkey. We were all enthusiastic and full of hopes for the future of our country. The mood was upbeat. That optimistic atmosphere has now been replaced by pessimism and uncertainty. There is no doubt that both parties bear responsibility for this," said Ergin. "The European Union demonstrated a major institutional failure to detect, read and analyze this deviation."
Speaking about the dangers of his daily life, the laureate said: "It cannot be common for the editor-in-chief of the biggest newspaper of an EU candidate country to go about with a bodyguard in an armored car. When full membership negotiations started a decade ago, it would never have crossed my mind that I would find myself in this situation in 2016." The treatment of journalists in Turkey has had "a chilling effect on freedom of expression," he said.
Ergin closed by saying that "the award I am receiving will be a great incentive for me and my colleagues to continue on the path towards the goal of independent journalism as we know it."
Publisher Kai Diekmann from German mass-circulation daily "Bild" presented a speech in Ergin's honor at the ceremony.
“Every day in Turkey journalists risk everything,” Kai Diekmann said. "There could hardly have been a more worthy winner of the award. Sedat Ergin is not only a man of great character. He is not only an outstanding journalist with 40 years of experience, and he is not only a great editor-in-chief. He is also a courageous man."
Ergin might face time in prison if convicted, Diekmann said. "Four years because of one article."
Diekmann: "Only three flight hours away from Berlin or Bonn, every day in Turkey journalists risk everything. Our Turkish colleagues risk their jobs, their physical integrity, their health, their freedom. They risk their lives. Colleagues like Sedat Ergin. This drastically shows us what a valuable and noble good the freedom of the press is."
"We have to face the ugly question: Has Europe become susceptible to blackmail because of the refugee deal with Turkey?” Diekmann asked, saying: "Germany and the European Union have a duty: We must not tire of addressing the terrible state of the freedom of the press and opinion in Turkey. We have to do this in no uncertain manner."
"Let us do everything to make sure that the loud voices of our courageous colleagues will never fall silent," said Diekmann.
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who won the first Freedom of Speech Award in 2015, was once again recalled at the Global Media Forum in a speech by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office. "Raif Badawi is still not able to be here in person due to his imprisonment. Our thoughts are with him today."