U.S. State Department Comments on Turkey’s Declining Press Freedom, Elections
By Danielle Saroyan
Armenian Agenda Associate Editor
The United States Department of State Office of Press Relations Director Elizabeth Trudeau commented on Turkey’s most recent Early Parliamentary Elections during the Daily Press Briefing on November 2.
Trudeau congratulated the people of Turkey on their participation in the elections, but expressed concern over restrictions on media freedom. “The media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition. We urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in Turkey’s constitution,” she said.
The very next day, a question about Turkey’s deteriorating press freedom was again raised. She did not directly respond to questions regarding the arrest of dozens of people in Turkey on November 2nd, including senior police officers and bureaucrats, on suspicion of having links to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who President Erdogan accuses of trying to run a “parallel state” in Turkey. “We urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values including due process, freedom of expression and assembly, access to media and information,” she reiterated. This message was conveyed both publicly and privately to the Turkish authorities, she said.
Below is a transcript of the State Department Daily Press Briefings from November 2nd and 3rd.
MS TRUDEAU: “We congratulate the people of Turkey on their participation in yesterday’s parliamentary elections. The United States looks forward to working with the newly-elected parliament and with the future government. As a friend and NATO ally, we are committed to continuing our close cooperation with Turkey to advance our shared political, security, and prosperity agendas.
We understand the OSCE will issue a comprehensive final report on the election in coming weeks. We note the OSCE released a statement of preliminary findings today highlighting that the elections offered voters a variety of choices but that restrictions on media freedom remain a serious concern. We reiterate our own concerns. The media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition. We urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.”
“QUESTION: So I note that you noted your own concerns about the pressure and intimidation on journalists in Turkey ahead of the election. Do you concur with the OSCE preliminary view that the conduct of the campaign was unfair because of the media and media access issues?
MS TRUDEAU: Well, as I said in my opening statement, they’ve released a statement of preliminary finding – findings that noted that the election had – voters had choices but restrictions remained a concern. We understand that a full report from the OSCE will come out later, so we’ll wait on that, but we’ve spoken very forcefully from this podium on our concerns on media freedom in Turkey.
QUESTION: And do you think that the return to single-party rule in Turkey is (a) a good thing, and (b) will it have any effect – positive, negative, neutral – on U.S.-Turkish cooperation against the Islamic State in Syria?
MS TRUDEAU: Well, we look forward to working with whatever new government. We understand the official election results will be released in coming days. We’re not going to speculate on the final result.”
“QUESTION: So the leader of the pro-Kurdish party, HDP, said – accused the ruling party of restricting them from campaigning during the election, and he said we cannot say the election was completely free and fair. Can you – what do you – what’s your – I know you responded to the OSCE report, but –
MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to stay there. At this stage we haven’t seen the final report of the monitors on the ground. We’re going to wait for that. In terms of parsing the words of individual parties on the ground, that’s a Turkish matter. I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.”
“QUESTION: There are reports of an additional crackdown on journalists and on civil society in Turkey since the elections. We are reporting that the authorities have detained dozens of people, including senior police officers and bureaucrats on Tuesday on suspicion of their having links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom the Erdogan government has had trouble with. And a left-leaning news magazine was raided over a cover story suggesting that the election result could trigger conflict.
Do you have any response to what is the latest in a long series of steps that are widely seen abroad as an effort to crack down on freedom of the press and on civil society in Turkey?
MS TRUDEAU: So we spoke about this a little yesterday, and I’d say the United States is Turkey’s friend. We are a NATO ally. We urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values including due process, freedom of expression and assembly, access to media and information. We look for governments to ensure that all law enforcement activities follow those.
QUESTION: Have you – I mean, you’ve said things like this repeatedly over the last several months, I think – longer than that, actually.
MS TRUDEAU: We have.
QUESTION: Have you reached – and I know that the new government is still being formed, but have you reached out to the Turkish authorities or to the interim government to convey this message?
MS TRUDEAU: So we have said this publicly and we’ve said this privately.
QUESTION: Including in the last day?
MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to the conversations we’ve had in the last day, but I would say I spoke to this yesterday from this podium. We – as you’ve noted, we’ve spoken to this repeatedly. Thanks.”