“I am saddened that these kinds of comments have been made in my absence,” the Turkish president said in a press briefing in Istanbul on Sunday as he rounded off a trip to the United States.
“These issues did not come onto the agenda in our talks with Mr Obama,” Erdogan said. “He did not talk to me about this kind of thing. In our previous telephone conversations we talked about other more useful things than press freedom.”
There is enough press freedom in Turkey, Erdogan stated, arguing that even the publications which insult him or call him things like “thief” and “killer” are not shut down. “Those publications that make these insults still exist.”
“If it was true that Turkey was a dictatorship, then how could such publications come out?” Erdogan asked.
“Such insults and threats are not permitted in the West,” the Turkish president said. “Had Obama put these issues (about press freedom) on the agenda in the talks, then I would have told him that.”
Obama said during a news conference at the end of a nuclear security summit in Washington on April 1 that the approach Turkish authorities have been taking toward the press could lead the country down a troubling path.
“There is no doubt that President Erdogan has been repeatedly elected through a democratic process, but I think the approach that they’ve been taking towards the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling.”
Obama also said he had openly spoken with Erdogan about “very troubling” developments in Turkey, especially in regard to freedom of the press, religion and democracy. “I have expressed this to him directly so it’s no secret, that there are some trends within Turkey that I have been troubled with.”
Still, Obama said that Turkey is a NATO ally and an important partner in fighting terrorism.
Many rights groups from across the globe have been calling on Western countries to press Turkey on the issue of human rights.
There have been reports of many people prosecuted in Turkey for insulting top authorities.
Activists say Erdogan has filed hundreds of court cases against critics, including many journalists, for insulting him since he took office in August 2014.
Two senior journalists from the Turkish opposition Cumhuriyet daily face trial for revealing Ankara’s military support for the Takfiri militants in Syria.
Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief at Cumhuriyet newspaper, and the paper’s Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, face charges of espionage, treason and revealing state secrets for publishing video footage purportedly showing trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) ferrying weapons in January 2014 to Takfiri terror groups operating in Syria.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on March 24, dozens of prominent writers including Nobel laureates called on the administration to drop charges against the Cumhuriyet journalists. The PEN International letter expressed concern over the “increasing climate of fear and censorship and the stifling of critical voices in Turkey.”
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