Friday, July 01, 2016

US: freedom of press trend is going the wrong direction in Turkey

DPB # 116
FRIDAY, JULY 1, 2016
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson
QUESTION: Two quick questions on Turkey, John. One of the Turkish police stated that they already got the IDs of the attackers, Istanbul airport attackers – two of them Russian citizens. Do you have any information on those suspects? Have you been told by the Turkish Government about these attackers?
MR KIRBY: We don’t have any additional information.
QUESTION: Second question is there are just today six different news websites have been shut down, and it looks like there are more critical news sites maybe shut down very soon. I was wondering if you have any comments on this.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen those reports. And look, as we’ve said in the past, unfettered access to information is an essential element of a democratic society. Freedom of expression for individuals as well as media organization we believe is a key element in – and we think that free expression, free press, access to that information are the kinds of principles that are enshrined in the Turkish constitution, and we’d like to see those lived up to. As Turkey’s friend and ally, we’re obviously – go ahead.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead. Somebody didn’t like what I just said, so --
QUESTION: Yes, I did not like that. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Both of you. You didn’t like it, and apparently you two didn’t like it. (Laughter.) So it’s all right. Let’s --
QUESTION: I didn’t have a problem with it at all. (Laughter.) QUESTION: I had a question on Turkey, but --
MR KIRBY: But it’s not that one.
MR KIRBY: Oh, okay. Well, when I get interrupted in midsentence, I just have to assume that you’re not partial to what I’m saying.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: These freedom of press questions have been asked to you many times. MR KIRBY: Yes, you have.
QUESTION: In recent times, it looks like you are basically repeating the exact same words and sentences; and this kind of gives that even though the trend is really getting worse and worse, we don’t see any kind of change on your side.
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) That reminds me of a story when I was an altar boy. 

QUESTION: Oh my. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: The priest that I knew was writing his homily, and saying the same thing Sunday after Sunday, and didn’t seem to think it was having an effect, so on one particular Sunday in the margins he wrote, “Shout here.”
I can – I’m not saying it any differently because we don’t believe it any differently. And I don’t – we don’t believe that – just like to Josh’s question about Russian harassment – that me standing up here and pounding my fist on the podium and getting all hot and bothered and lathered up about it is going to make it any better. Okay? We believe in freedom of expression. We believe in freedom of the press. I would think that you guys would appreciate that. And we believe it not just here at home, but we believe that any country that says it believes in democratic principles and has a constitution that enshrines those principles ought to feel the same way. And we’re not bashful about saying it, but to scream it and yell it, to use different verbs or nouns, as you described it, isn’t going to change at all the fact that our concerns remain the same and that we’re having the – unfortunately having to have the same conversations with Turkish officials.
What I’m saying – hang on a second. What I’m saying to you is what we’re saying to them. And as Turkey’s friend and ally we do it in the spirit of friendship, we do it in the spirit of hopefulness that this trend, which I agree with you is worrisome and definitely going the wrong direction, can be reversed. And it can be. It’s a very simple thing to reverse through good, solid, sound leadership decisions. And so far, those leadership decisions haven’t been made. In fact, they’re – the opposite are being made. But I guarantee you that next week and the week after, if we continue to see things going the wrong way, you’re going to continue to hear me say it in exactly the same way, because there’s no better way to put it than we have been putting it.
QUESTION: Okay. On the first – your answer to the first question on the suspects, does that also apply – that means that you haven’t – you can’t confirm and you haven’t even heard it from the Turks? And secondly, does that also apply to these reports that a Chechen was the mastermind of --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not aware of every conversation that we’re having with Turkish authorities as they investigate this. It’s their investigation. We’ve obviously offered to do whatever we can to help. I’m not aware that they have accepted any of those offers of help, so I – I’m not aware of any conversation specifically that perhaps our law enforcement agencies may be having with Turkish authorities. I can tell you here at the State Department we are not getting blow-by-blow updates from the Turks about what they’re learning in the investigation. In fact, many times we’re hearing about it, as you are, when they read their findings out in the media. So we just don’t have any additional information.
22 7/1/2016 QUESTION: Okay. So in terms of the – you’re not aware of any validity of a Chechen --
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I have no – I have nothing specific on the investigation or the progress of it to talk about.
QUESTION: All right. I have an unrelated question.
QUESTION: In the spirit of friendship and hopefulness, do you --
MR KIRBY: You’re going to end the briefing? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’ve got one more, but it’ll be really quick.
QUESTION: Do you have any fresh comment on Turkey’s parliament late last night passing a law restructuring the judiciary?
MR KIRBY: I do, actually. We note the parliament’s passage yesterday of a bill to overhaul two of Turkey’s highest courts, which we understand will be conveyed now to President Erdogan for signature. The United States is deeply concerned about the legislation’s potential to erode the independence of the Turkish judiciary and subject it to increased political pressure. We believe an independent judiciary, as provided for in the Turkish constitution, is essential for advancing the rule of law, promoting a fair and transparent business environment, and remains a key pillar of a healthy democracy. As a friend and NATO ally, we will be monitoring Turkey’s judicial reforms closely to understand how they adhere to our shared democratic values.

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