Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected criticism that he has been "waging a war" against press groups, urging that criticism should not be confused with insult.
Erdoğan spoke to CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview in Washington, amid Nuclear Security Summit. The interview addressed Turkey’s “media crackdown” and concerns over freedom of thought, as well as the stance of European countries against terror threat.
Erdoğan stated that these countries “enabled” the spread of the Islamic State (IS), while slamming them for failing to address the significance of the terror threat.
The press attacking me very seriously: Erdoğan
“Erdogan is famously sensitive to criticism” said the CNN article outlining the interview, reiterating that “insulting the President is a crime in Turkey”. “More than 1,800 cases have been filed since Erdogan took office in 2014, according to the country’s Justice Minister” said CNN’s report.
“We have never done anything to stop freedom of expression or freedom of press” Erdoğan told Amanpour during the exclusive interview. “On the contrary, the press in Turkey had been very critical of me and my government, attacking me very seriously. And regardless of those attacks, we have been very patient in the way we have responded to those attacks” he added.
“I’m not at war with the press…We have to define what war against press stands for in your point of view and in my point of view” said Erdoğan.
Consuls general “supportive of people who are allegedly engaged in espionage”
Erdoğan has harshly criticized consuls general including the British and German envoys in Turkey, for attending a trial of two journalists at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara correspondent Erdem Gül, accused of espionage after covering a video that allegedly showed Turkey’s intelligence agency funneling weapons into Syria.
“It’s OK for the journalists to come as observers to the trials” Erdoğan told CNN. “It’s different to have the consuls general attending tribunals collectively, supportive of people who are allegedly engaged in espionage. [This] will never be tolerated” he said.
“My country has laws in place. If a member of the press or an executive of a newspaper [is] engaging in espionage, disclosing a country’s secrets to the rest of the world, and if this conduct becomes a part of a litigation, a litigation will result in a verdict. Wherever you go around the world, this will be case. Engaging in actions which are not allowed by law should have certain prices to pay.”
“Whether it be satire or not, everything has to have boundaries”
Amanpour also asked the Turkish President whether his response to a video from a German comedy show mocking Erdogan on the Internet showed he had “very thin skin.”
“Satire, whether it be satire or not, everything has to have boundaries” Erdogan responded. “A simple caricature, a simple sketch that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you draw up a caricature … if you associate that subject with the things you’re not supposed to, then, of course, you can’t expect that to be acceptable” Turkish President added.
European countries “enabled terror threat to spread”
Global terror threat and security concerns in Turkey’s southeast and the region were also at the heart of Erdoğan’s interview with CNN.
Erdogan said he believed many European countries have” failed to address the significance of the terror threat and have not done enough to fight it”.
Erdoğan criticized those countries for allowing the Islamic State (IS) to spread, while diplomatic row continues after Erdogan accused many European countries of “having not met their obligations”, regarding the flock of jihadists from Europe.
“We were left alone by Western countries”
Erdoğan slammed Belgian authorities of having showed “similar negligence” in handling the case of Ibrahim El Bakraoui, suspected Brussels bomber who was captured by Turkish authorities last year. Belgian authorities “flagged” him soon afterward.
“We have been calling the nations for a common stance against terrorism, and many of the European member states seem to have failed to attach the significance that this call for action deserves” Erdogan said.
“We were left alone by Western countries. Our intelligence-sharing expectations were never met” he urged.
While praising Turkey’s “enduring commitment” to fight the Islamic State, “We are committed to this goal and we expect the same determination from Western countries as well” Erdoğan called.
Freedom of press and expression “irrelevant obstacles” for joining the EU
CNN International also referred to the alleged obstacles for Turkey’s accession to the European Union (EU), d by Turkey’s “troubled relationship with journalists”.
However, according to Erdoğan freedom of the press and of expression are “irrelevant obstacles” although the EU has repeatedly warned these rights were “nonnegotiable” conditions.
“Although we are one of the first applicants to the EU membership, we’re still lingering at the doorstep” Turkish President said.
“We are still being kept busy with irrelevant obstacles, but we are very patient.”
Erdogan has been at the top of Turkish politics for more than a decade, serving as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014, when he was elected President. He remains popular at home.
“So long as you love the people sincerely and deeply, people will love you” Erdoğan told Amanpour, while CNN underlined Erdoğan’s “popularity at home” as has been “at the top of Turkish politics for more than a decade”.