British Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to raise human rights issues in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in London later on Tuesday, her spokesman said, as Erdoğan on Sunday began a three-day state visit to the UK, where he has been facing demonstrations due to ongoing human rights violations in Turkey and the silencing of the media.
“Our close relationship with Turkey allows us to have frank discussions, and you can expect the prime minister to discuss human rights when they speak later today,” the spokesman told reporters.
“We have always been clear that we want Turkey to uphold its international obligations including respect for freedom of expression and political freedoms,” he said and added that
May and Erdoğan would discuss how to build cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism, migration, regional stability and trade.
Dozens of demonstrators including representatives of international nongovernmental organizations gathered at Downing Street on Tuesday calling for the release of more than 200 journalists in Turkey’s prisons as Erdoğan was meeting with May.
Valerie Peay, director of the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR), a nonprofit NGO that works to end human rights violations worldwide, attended the “Free Turkey Media” protests on Tuesday outside 10 Downing Street to call on May to address President Erdoğan’s crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey.
Some protestors held posters depicting Turkish journalists who are behind bars.
In the meantime, a brawl reportedly erupted between a group of protestors demonstrating against Erdoğan and a group of Erdoğan’s supporters at Downing Street before Erdoğan’s meeting with May on Tuesday.
Erdoğan’s crackdown on the media culminated with a failed coup attempt that took place on July 15, 2016. Dozens of journalists have been put behind bars in the aftermath of the coup attempt on trumped-up coup or terrorism charges.
Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) show that 254 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 8, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 62 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
President Erdoğan was greeted by protesters on his way to Chatham House on Monday, where he was to deliver a speech. Protesters welcomed Erdoğan with banners that read “Terrorist.”
The Guardian reported that human rights organizations and citizens of Turkey who live in the UK called on the British people to condemn the arrest of journalists, opposition politicians and political activists.
The UK Bureau of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also made a call for a protest to be staged on Tuesday in Downing Street, where the British Prime Minister’s residence is located.
UK Bureau Director of the RSF Rebecca Vincent also brought to mind the arrested journalists by posting a tweet on her personal Twitter account with #FreeTurkeyMedia hashtag.
Meanwhile, a 17-year-old man was injured Monday morning during demonstrations outside London protesting the visit by Erdoğan. The incident occurred in Berkshire as protestors clashed with police while trying to block a convoy carrying Erdoğan to a business event. A video posted on social media by protesters showed police officers holding back dozens of protesters as the convoy passed.
There is anger that the British government is courting a government accused of abusing human rights. As Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas put it, May is “increasingly willing to cosy up to repressive leaders.”
Labour MP David Lammy said: “Today human rights abuser and despotic dictator will have the red carpet rolled out for him by [Theresa May] and he will have an audience with HM Queen Elizabeth. Quite disgusting to fawn over this tyrant in an attempt to sell him yet more arms, too cowardly to raise human rights.”
Erdoğan and May were expected to discuss trade, economic relations and international issues. For the UK’s part, May will be keen to forge strong links with Turkey ahead of Brexit. Last year, the two leaders met in Ankara where they agreed a £100 million defence deal to help develop fighter jets for the Turkish air force.
Before arriving in Britain, Erdogan said, “We want to continue our economic relations as the governments of Turkey and the United Kingdom without interruption after Brexit.”