Erdoğan rebukes US journalist asking about politically motivated arrests in Turkey

(Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who frequently targets or attacks journalists in Turkey due to their critical reporting, has this time rebuked an American journalist who directed him some questions about politically motivated arrests in Turkey, Turkish Minute reported on Tuesday.

Erdoğan, who is currently in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, spoke to journalist Amna Nawaz from US broadcaster PBS for an interview late Monday.

When Nawaz asked about the arrest of businessman Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, who have both been behind bars for years, as well as the arrest of journalist Sedef Kabaş on charges of insulting Erdoğan and whether he feels threatened by these people, Erdoğan tried to avoid linking himself with the arrests.

“Why are you so interested in this? Turkey has a state of law. Such decisions can only be made by the judiciary. And if this is what the judiciary has decided to do, let the decisions or the judgments of the judiciary be respected and executed,” he said.

When Nawaz tried to follow up on her question, Erdoğan scolded her, saying, “Don’t interrupt. You have no right to interrupt. You’re not going to interrupt me. And respect me. And you are going to respect the judgment of the judiciary as well.”

Erdoğan’s attitude toward Nawaz in the face of a serious question has led to comments that it is a good indicator of why so many journalists are in jail in Turkey and why Turkey is at the bottom of the list in press freedom indexes.

Exiled journalist Ahmet Dönmez, who was also scolded by Erdoğan in front of the cameras in 2014 when he asked him about corruption allegations involving himself, wrote on the X social media platform that Erdoğan is someone who can even reprimand a journalist in the US for interrupting him.

“You act like Zeus … when you’re interrupted. The whole world can imagine what you’re telling members of the judiciary behind closed doors in Turkey,” said Dönmez.

Dönmez was implying that there is no independent judiciary in Turkey as is claimed by Erdoğan and that members of the judiciary act on orders from the president.

To another question about Turkey being fourth in the world in terms of the largest number of imprisoned journalists, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and why so many journalists are in prison in the country, Erdoğan asked Nawaz whether she knows how many journalists are in jail in Turkey.

When Nawaz said she did know and that according to the CPJ, the number had doubled from 2021 to 2022 and increased to more than 40 in 2022 from 18 in 2021, Erdoğan responded: “These people have been supportive of terrorism. They were supporting terrorism, and … the judiciary made judgments on these people.”

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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