December 18, 2014

US congressmen ask Kerry to press Turkey on media freedom

Several members of the US Congress have expressed their concerns over the arrest of journalists in Turkey, asking US Secretary of State John Kerry to press Turkey over its violation of democracy.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY3) said in a letter that the arrests represent a pattern of intolerance and suppression of dissent by the Turkish government and are a threat to freedom of expression and the rule of law in Turkey.

“In light of recent developments, I urge you to raise the recent arrests with your Turkish counterpart and fully address Turkey's erosion of democracy and rule of law,” Israel said.

Israel added that the US must not turn a blind eye to the “egregious action” by the Turkish government.

Rep. Al Green (D-TX9) said in a letter that he agrees with Kerry's recent remarks on the arrests. “I agree with your conclusion and urge that you continue to do all that you can to ensure that Turkish authorities do not violate the core values of media freedom, due process and judicial independence which are key elements enshrined in the Turkish constitution,” he added.

Another US representative, Michael M. Honda (D-CA17), also said in a letter to Kerry that the US should pressure Turkey over the violation of freedom and the use of censorship.

Honda stressed that Turkey is an important NATO ally but that its actions put the national interests of both the US and Turkey at risk.

In addition, US Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX28) stressed the importance of the freedom of the media and called on the US government to encourage Turkey to protect democratic values, according to the Cihan news agency.

Congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX36), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement on Wednesday in which he said Turkey, under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rule, is descending into authoritarian rule.

“Erdoğan should immediately release his political prisoners and restore a free press. The arrested journalists are followers of Fethullah Gülen, a mainstream Islamic preacher living in exile in the United States. Gülen embraces democracy, encourages dialogue with Jews and Christians and condemns terrorism. I urge Congress to immediately condemn Erdoğan's dictatorial rule and demand he free those arrested Sunday," he added.

Mass arrest of journalists a tragedy for Turkey

Speaking to the Cihan news agency, Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador, said the mass arrest of journalists is a tragedy for Turkey.

“Governments that are strong and confident tolerate and benefit from dissent. Those that are weak and cowardly fear and suppress it. All leaders make errors. If there is no free press to expose them, they will not only fail to correct their mistakes, they will compound the damage they do,” Freeman said.

Freeman added that the crackdown on the Zaman daily and other media outlets is a major setback for Turkish democracy that bodes ill for Turkey.

Paul A. London, a former official at the US Department of Commerce, said: “He [Erdoğan] has now become a threat to Turkish political and economic progress and one can only hope that democratic checks are strong enough in Turkey to restrain him.”

London added that arresting and trying to intimidate critics in the media by claiming they are plotters and traitors is all too familiar a tactic, and that this is not the first time Erdoğan has used it.

Professor Ori Z. Soltes said the current round of arrests offers definitive proof that Erdoğan has abandoned any pretense whatsoever of retaining the democratic values that he once claimed to champion for Turkey.

“On the contrary, his naked revelation of his fascistic, dictatorial and tyrannical inclinations will guarantee him a place in history among the ugliest leaders of the past hundred years,” he added.

Published on Today's Zaman, 18 December 2014, Thursday