Friday, March 18, 2016

White House calls on Turkey not to interfere w editorial operations of media outlets

  March 17, 2016


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

    My Qs and As w White House Spox Josh Eanest

Q    Thank you.  On Turkey, Josh, you talked about Turkey last week as well.  And just today, after you talked about Zaman newspaper, the biggest newspaper seized.  Today, there’s an indictment at the second best-selling newspaper’s owner, now ask for 23 years of jail sentence.  My first question -- I’ve got two questions -- my first question is, do you think NATO ally, U.S. friend, is, under President Obama’s watch, losing its democratic character?

     MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me start by saying that Turkey is a NATO ally, and the United States takes our obligations to our NATO allies seriously.  And the nation of Turkey in the last several weeks has been plagued by terrorist activity, including violence perpetrated by terrorists against innocent civilians.  And the United States stands with our NATO ally in Turkey as they confront those terrorists.  We also stand with them as they assert their right to defend themselves.  And we have also found it effective and valuable to our counter-ISIL effort to be able to draw upon the important contributions that Turkey has made.

     Turkey has made progress in sealing the border between Turkey and Syria.  That has had a tangible impact on the ability of ISIL to move foreign fighters from around the world to Syria.  So that’s a positive thing.  We have also secured an agreement from Turkey to allow the United States and coalition aircraft to use military facilities and airbases inside of Turkey to more efficiently and more effectively carry out military operations against ISIL targets in Syria.  All of that is positive and important.  At the same time, the United States continues to be troubled by the Turkish government’s use of appointed trustees to shut down or interfere with the editorial operations of media outlets that are sometimes critical to government.  Court-ordered supervision of a media company’s finances and operations should not prompt changes to the newsroom or to a news organization’s editorial policies.  We call on the Turkish government to ensure full respect for due process and equal treatment under the law.  And in a democratic society, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced. 

     So we urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal, democratic values enshrined in Turkey’s constitution, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press.

     Q    And one more.  You just talked about freedom of speech.  There is a petition signed by 1,100 academics in Turkey, including some of the U.S. -- dissidents from U.S. as well.  And now hundreds of these academics are under trial.  Some of them got fired, suspended.  And 700 or 600 of them are under investigation just because they signed the letter.  So my question is, since President Erdogan is scheduled to come to Washington, D.C. -- I think it’s not confirmed -- if he comes, or if in Ankara, do you think the U.S. needs to raise these human rights issues with Ankara more forcefully, considering we know that President Obama did not raise these issues in recent meetings in Antalya or Paris?

     MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just say generally that the Obama administration has followed in the footsteps of previous administrations here in the United States of advocating for universal human rights around the world.  And President Obama routinely, in his meetings with leaders around the world, continues to impress upon those leaders how much of a priority we place on respecting basic universal human rights, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.  These are priorities for the United States both in terms of them being closely held values here at home, but also in terms of the way that we advocate for those values around the world.

     So in our conversations across the government, with our Turkish counterparts, it is not at all uncommon for us to continue to advocate for those values and continue to urge the Turkish government to do a better job of respecting those basic human rights. 

     Now, we have frequent conversations with the Turkish government because we are able to effectively coordinate with them on a range of issues, particularly issues that are critical to U.S. national security.  And we value that coordination and our ability to cooperate with the Turks, particularly when it comes to our counter-ISIL cooperation.  But that does not in any way lessen our commitment to standing up for the kinds of universal human rights that we believe should be protected not just here in the United States but around the world, particularly inside the borders of some of our closest allie''

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