Turkey hits back at US over media freedom criticism


ANKARA – Turkey on Thursday rejected US criticism over media freedom in the country following the detention of four opposition journalists in a probe of alleged coup plots. “Press freedom in Turkey is greater than press freedom in America… There is no problem in Turkey in this sense,” Interior Minister Besir Atalay said, according to Anatolia news agency.
Monday’s detentions fuelled accusations that a probe into alleged plots to topple the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has degenerated into a campaign to bully the secularist opposition. Other journalists have been already jailed pending trial as part of the sprawling investigation, afoot since 2007. Washington said Wednesday it was “closely” watching the case and voiced concern over the treatment of journalists.
“We do have broad concerns about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey, and we have raised that directly with the Turkish government and we’ll continue to do so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. He followed up on remarks by the US envoy to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, that Washington was “trying to make sense” of Ankara’s stated policy in favour of a free press and the persecution of journalists.
Senior AKP official Huseyin Celik hit back, saying “ambassadors cannot interfere in our domestic affairs,” in remarks published Thursday. The four journalists – all from the popular opposition website odatv.com – were detained in Istanbul for suspected links to a purported secularist network that allegedly plotted to throw Turkey into political chaos and prompt a military coup to oust the AKP.
Judicial officials were expected to decide Thursday whether to free the suspects or press charges and send them to jail pending trial. The investigation into the so-called Ergenekon network was initially hailed as a success in a country where the military has unseated four governments since 1960. But its credibility waned as prosecutors began charging journalists, academics and civic activists knowns as AKP opponents.
The AKP has carried out a series of democratic reforms to boost Turkey’s EU membership bid, but has come under mounting fire recently for intolerance. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan often attacks the critical press and Turkey’s largest media group, Dogan, is struggling under a giant tax fine, slapped in 2009 in the wake of a row with the government.