Clinton troubled by Turkey's journalist arrests

AP , Saturday 16 Jul 2011

Clinton spoke about Turkey's potential as a model for Arab states now undergoing democratic transition, but was concerned about threats to press freedom

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday said she was troubled by Turkey's arrests of dozens of journalists, calling the moves inconsistent with the economic and political progress the moderate Muslim nation has made.

Despite those concerns, she said the country could be a model for Arab nations now in the throes of revolt or democratic transition.
Speaking at a coffee house event in Istanbul, Clinton said Turkey's 11 percent growth rate was impressive and that it, along with democratic secular traditions, could inspire Arabs in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria who are demanding reform. She said Turkey has "a lot of lessons to share" and that they could translate with its neighbors in the Arab world.

However, she expressed concern about recent government actions against the media, which have fed fears about threats to press freedom in Turkey, a democracy with a mostly Muslim population that seeks membership in the European Union.

"I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey's interests to be cracking down," Clinton said, adding that Turkey's institutions could withstand the scrutiny and debate that a free press brings. "It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made."

"This is an area that deserves attention from citizens and lawmakers," she added. "I would be standing up for freedom of expression."
Turkish media groups say more than 60 journalists are in jail in Turkey and accuse authorities of using flimsy evidence to bring charges against them. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Clinton will see later Saturday, said in April that there were 26 journalists in jail in Turkey for activities unrelated to journalism.

Erdogan has cited the role of some sectors of the media in fanning support for past coups led by the Turkish military, a staunch supporter of the secular system.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Turkey is a member, says a total of 57 journalists are jailed in Turkey, mostly on anti-terror charges. This group includes people with alleged ties to Kurdish rebels and extreme leftists. The OSCE acknowledged Turkey's right to safeguard national security, but called on it to reform media legislation so as to ensure the right to free expression.

Clinton also urged Turks to continue to embrace inclusive traditions and serve as a bridge between East and West, without choosing one over the other.
"I don't think there is any reason for Turkey to shift from West to East," she said. "As an outsider, I have always thought the debate is a debate without real meaning to it because why would you give up one for another? You can look both ways and to me that is an incredible advantage."

Short link: