British Premier May warns Turkey’s Erdoğan on human rights violations

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday warned Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan not to go too far in his crackdown on those believed to be behind a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, speaking after a meeting in London marked by human rights protests.

According to a report by Reuters, rights campaigners have accused British Premier May of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in pursuit of trade deals after Brexit. In Turkey’s case they point to the jailing tens of thousands of people after the failed coup.

May said Britain’s relationship with Turkey was indispensable, praising the impact of security cooperation and the prospect of close post-Brexit trade ties. But she added a diplomatic warning on the need for restraint.

“It is right that those who sought to overthrow the democratically elected government are brought to justice,” May said, speaking alongside Erdoğan in her Downing Street office following their meeting.

“But it is also important that in the defense of democracy, which has been facing extraordinary pressures from the failed coup, instability across the border from Syria and from Kurdish terrorism, Turkey does not lose sight of the values it is seeking to defend,” she said and added that she had underlined the need for Turkey to uphold democratic values and its human rights obligations.

Just hours before May and Erdoğan were due to meet, around 100 protesters waved banners outside May’s office depicting Erdoğan as a puppet master with blood on his hands. Another said “Tamam,” or “enough.” About 20 meters away, separated by barriers and a police cordon, a similar number waved Turkish flags in the direction of the anti-Erdoğan protesters, chanting and playing loud music. The two sides briefly scuffled.

President Erdoğan also made a statement in response to a question raised by a journalist about journalists under arrest in Turkey and said at the joint press conference that “the information conveyed to you is very wrong” and added: “Your news sources are not correct. You have to make a distinction between terrorists and journalists.”

“Of course, the ones caught red-handed carrying weapons or stealing money from an ATM are not free to do everything. Our judiciary has given its rulings for those who have gotten involved in terrorism. You should learn about them from their sources so that you can write sound news. I gave the necessary answer to a similar question raised at Chatham House yesterday. But apparently my answer has not reached you,” said Erdoğan.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. 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 SCF show that 253 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 11, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 191 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.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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