Monday, July 25, 2016

White House: Ostensibly, Turkish government is protecting the Turkish democracy.. so they need to protect foundation of it

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                July 25, 2016


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

My Qs & As with White House Press Sec Earnest

Yes, sir, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks so much.  On Turkey, Josh, a couple of questions, if I may.  Just today, there are about 42 journalists -- issued arrest warrant for 42 journalists -- there’s another warrant for arrest for another 19 journalists (in Antalya)... and there are many other across Turkey.  A crackdown goes on.  It has been 10 days since the coup attempt failed.  Are you watching what’s going on in Turkey in terms of a government’s, some call purge, some other call crackdown after the coup?

MR. EARNEST:  President Obama was asked about this on Friday, and I think the President spoke quite directly about the situation in Turkey.  I think it should be evident from his response that it’s not just that the United States government is closely following the situation in Turkey.  President Obama is personally following the situation in Turkey quite closely.

Turkey is an important ally of the United States.  And there’s a reason that the United States was one of the first countries around the world to issue our own swift condemnation of the coup attempt in Turkey.  The United States values our alliance and certainly deeply respects the democratic traditions inside of Turkey.  And when President Obama had an opportunity to speak with President Erdogan on the telephone last week, President Obama conveyed his view that Turkish democratic institutions are worth protecting.  It’s those very institutions and traditions that were critical to repelling the coup in the first place.

And there’s strong support among the Turkish people and within the Turkish government for those democratic institutions. In fact, in the midst of the coup, you saw the parties in the Turkish parliament come forward issuing their own sweeping condemnation of the coup attempt, even though some of those parties have vigorous political disagreements with President Erdogan. 

So these kinds of democratic institutions and traditions, the democratic values that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution are all worth protecting.  And even as the Turkish government conducts the kind of investigation that’s necessary to get to the bottom of what happened in the context of the failed coup, it’s also important for them to keep in mind that those democratic institutions were instrumental from preventing the coup from succeeding.

Q    Do you think that these many journalists being detained or arrested, is it justified?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, freedom of the press is one of the rights that’s enshrined in the Turkish constitution.  And President Obama on more than one occasion has had a conversation with President Erdogan about the United States’ own view and the U.S. government’s own view that protecting those rights is important.  And the President certainly has conveyed that to President Erdogan in the past, even before the coup took place.

So the United States’ commitment to those values and those principles, including the freedom of the press, is rock solid.  And we certainly have -- well, I’ll just say, President Obama has certainly conveyed our rock-solid commitment to those issues to President Erdogan in the hopes that he’ll demonstrate a similar commitment to them.

Q    So you think it’s not justified?  Can you --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I can’t from here render a judgment on that.  But President Obama made clear that he’s personally watching the situation closely.  U.S. officials continue to be in close touch with their Turkish counterparts, and we certainly believe that it’s important, even as the Turkish government goes to great lengths to determine what exactly happened in the context of the failed coup -- and to bring some accountability to those who may have been complicit in that effort -- that it’s critically important that the Turkish government not also undermine the very democratic institutions that, ostensibly, they’re trying to protect.

Q    In the same press conference, President Obama last week stated that some of the rumors “that the U.S. involved” about coup would threaten critical alliance between Turkey and U.S.  Yet over the weekend, Turkish Justice Minister said that however knows his name is Obama and U.S. also knows that it is behind the coup.  This came from justice minister.  And today, very staunch pro-government newspaper headline accusing the former General Campbell is behind the coup -- who operated and coordinated the coup from Turkey -- visiting Turkey several times in recent months -- with a picture and the name.  Do you think your message has been listened to in Turkey?

     MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, the allegation against General Campbell is baseless and barely worth a response.  President Obama was, to use his word, unequivocal in the East Room about the United States and our strong commitment to our alliance with Turkey.

     The President was unequivocal in his condemnation of the attempt by some members of the military to overthrow the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey.  There's some pretty good evidence to indicate that we mean what we saw.  The United States was among the first countries to issue a statement critical of the failed coup attempt.

     So President Obama can obviously speak to this more authoritatively than I can, and he did, as recently as last Friday in saying that the United States was, of course, not just not involved in the coup attempt but rather was and has been critical of the failed coup attempt and strongly supportive of the democratically elected government of Turkey.

     Q    Final question.  There is an Amnesty International report saying that there is credible evidence of torture, including rape, applied to detainees -- over 10,000 people so far have been detained.  Have you seen the report?  Do you have a comment on that?

     MR. EARNEST:  I've been briefed on the report.  What I can tell you is that there are important democratic institutions and traditions inside of Turkey that are worth protecting.  There are rights enshrined in Turkey's constitution that are worth protecting.  These basic human rights are an important part of the alliance between the United States and Turkey -- both the United States and Turkey are strongly committed to those universal human rights and strongly committed to protecting those universal human rights.  

And it's important, even as Turkey conducts an investigation to determine who may have been responsible for the failed coup attempt, that they protect those basic human rights moving forward.  And that is something that President Obama has conveyed directly in private to President Erdogan.  It's something that President Obama discussed publicly yesterday -- or on Friday in his news conferences.  And it's something I anticipate that the administration will continue to watch closely moving forward.

     Q    Turkey suspended the human rights convention, so it is not bound to it.  And also there is a state of emergency in Turkey right now.  So you have been mentioning the (inaudible) (those rights,IT) suspended in Turkey.

     MR. EARNEST:  Well, what also happened in Turkey, as you pointed out, was just 10 days ago there was an attempt by some members of the military to overthrow the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey.  So it's understandable that the Turkish government and the Turkish people would be interested in a full investigation and in some accountability.

     So the situation in Turkey is tense.  People are understandably on edge.  But what is clear is that it's important for Turkey's government to protect the kinds of democratic institutions and traditions that Turkey has long stood for you.  Ostensibly, that is what the government is protecting -- is the Turkish democracy.  And as they protect the Turkish democracy, it's important that they are protective of the principles that form the foundation of that democracy.

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