December 18, 2014

US senators express concern over crackdown on media in Turkey

The Turkish government's crackdown on the media with the detention of several journalists has been met with harsh reactions in the US, with several US senators expressing concern about Turkey's limitations on press freedoms.

Six members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have heavily criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the recent government crackdown on the media, saying Erdoğan's actions in the country are shifting toward “more authoritarianism,” and called on the Turkish government to release the journalists who were detained on Sunday.

Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, chairman of Samanyolu TV, were detained on Sunday in a police operation that targeted journalists, TV scriptwriters and former police officers.

Speaking to the private Cihan news agency, McCain said on Tuesday that the detention of journalists is "anti-democratic, uncalled for and really unfortunate." He also said that the detentions constitute a "repression of the media."

The committee chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, said criticism of the government can't be a reason to detain journalists and that detaining media members for being critical is "pretty authoritarian." Menendez also said that he is concerned that Turkey is increasingly moving away from secularism.

Both senators said they have concerns for the state of press freedom in Turkey.

McCain said that this is the latest autocratic move by Erdoğan, following a number of other anti-democratic actions on the part of the Turkish president. McCain also called on the Turkish government to free the detained journalists as soon as possible.

Speaking to the Cihan, Menendez also criticized the recent detentions and said that he has concerns about the actions of the Turkish government, including those against press freedoms in Turkey. He said the media in Turkey are under tremendous pressure by the government and stressed that journalists shouldn't be detained for being critical of the government.

Another member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Chris Murphy, told Cihan it is very disturbing to see the swift fall in Turkey with regards to human rights and media freedom. He also stressed that Turkey is a very important political and economic ally for the US, adding that the US wants to see Turkey as an integral part of the European Union and the West. Murphy expressed a hope to see a change in the Turkish government's approach to the media.

Sen. John Thune told Cihan that the media must be free and that he would like to see the Turkish leadership be more open and democratic. Committee member Sen. Roger Wicker said that he is concerned about the regression in press freedom in Turkey. Sen. Roy Blunt also stressed that he has concerns about the direction Turkey is going, and press freedoms are one of his main concerns.

US Rep. Al Green has sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry calling on him to pressure Turkey to take the correct path regarding press freedoms. Rep. Eliot L. Engel made a statement on Tuesday saying it's not a surprise that Erdoğan is trying to silence dissenting voices and expressed that limitations on press freedoms cannot be tolerated.

State Department concerned

US Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki on Tuesday stressed that, whether in Turkey or anywhere in the world, the US supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest. The answer came in response to a question regarding a ongoing case in which a number of fans of İstanbul's Beşiktaş football team are being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Speaking at a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Psaki said: “We look to Turkey to uphold these fundamental freedoms. We remain concerned about due process, broadly speaking, and effective access to justice in Turkey. For this specific case or details of this, I'd refer you to Turkish authorities."

When asked to comment on the fact that two journalists detained on Sunday in Turkey remain in detention, Psaki said she didn't have anything new to offer. She added: “We are concerned by the detention of journalists and media representatives following police raids on the offices of media which have been critical of the government. Media freedom, due process and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. Freedom of the media includes the freedom to criticize the government. Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason. As Turkey's friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold Turkey's core values and democratic foundations."

When asked whether Turkey's backsliding as a democracy is causing concerns about Turkey's standing in NATO as a good, solid member, Psaki simply answered, “No." Psaki added that when there are concerns the US can express those concerns about the implementation of these important values. “But it does not mean that they don't continue to be an important ally and NATO partner," she said.

When asked to comment on the claims made by the Turkish government that the Hizmet movement has made attempts to topple the government via messages delivered through soap operas in Turkey, Psaki responded that she didn't have any comment.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 December 2014, Wednesday