Turkish journalists in clashes with bodyguards during Erdoğan’s US visit
Turkish journalists have accused Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail of kicking, shoving and verbally abusing them on Thursday in an attempt to bar them from a Washington DC thinktank where the president was giving a speech.
The fracas in the heart of the US capital made for a rocky start for Erdoğan, who stands accused of cracking down on freedom of the press in Turkey, as he attends a nuclear security summit hosted by Barack Obama.
Adem Arslan, 42, a journalist at the newly launched liberal daily Özgür Düşünce, said he had pre-registered to attend the speech and was in the lobby speaking to Brookings’ foreign policy communications director Gail Chalef. “While we were talking, Erdoğan’s guy came over and threatened me and tried to kick me out,” he recalled. “Gail told them, ‘He’s a journalist and we invited him’. Erdoğan’s guards said they didn’t care and verbally and physically attacked me. They grabbed me and pushed me out of the building and forced me across the street.”
Emre Uslu, 41, a Turkish journalist at Today’s Zaman newspaper, which was seized earlier this month by the Turkish government, said he was kicked so hard in the knee that it bled and he was unable to attend the event. “I was shocked by Washington metropolitan police. They were simply saying, ‘Cross the road, don’t come here’,” Uslu said. “I told a secret service guy and he said he had no jurisdiction to further investigate.”
Finally, Amberin Zaman, a public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, and former Economist correspondent in Turkey, said she saw Erdoğan’s officers crossing the road to confront a small group of protesters holding banners of the YPG – a Kurdish militia based in Syria and supported by the US in the fight against Islamic State – and became caught up in the trouble herself.
“This is not unusual behaviour for his security detail. They act with impunity and there is no evidence they are reprimanded for it. I would like to think we’re safe in the United States but we’re not. We’re vulnerable to bullying by Mr Erdoğan’s security detail even in the capital,” Zaman said.
Senior US and European officials and international media rights watchdogs have condemned Turkey’s recent actions against the media, including this month’s seizure of the top-selling Zaman newspaper, and the arrest and imprisonment of several journalists. The country’s justice minister recently said 1,845 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting Erdoğan.
Brookings did not invite questions from the media but moderator Martin Indyk asked Erdoğan about the issue of press freedom. The president said he had come prepared, and brandished what he said was a dossier of the legal cases.
During a wide-ranging discussion, he also discussed the tensions with the Turkey’s Kurds. The US has made no secret of its ties with Kurdish militias in northern Syria fighting Isis, and American officials do not regard the YPG as auxiliaries of the PKK, which Washington does deem a terrorist group. But Erdoğan insisted that they are one and the same. “Terrorists unfortunately keep attacking our country,” he said. “We cannot tolerate this anymore. European countries and other countries, I hope they can see the true face of terrorists in these attacks.”
The National Press Club in Washington condemned the days’ events. Thomas Burr, its president, said: “Turkey’s leader and his security team are guests in the United States. They have no right to lay their hands on reporters or protesters or anyone else for that matter, when the people they were apparently roughing up seemed to be merely doing their jobs or exercising the rights they have in this country.”
Burr also commended Brookings Institution personnel for resisting efforts by Erdoğan’s bodyguards to rough up the press. Chalef said: “Brookings’s staff and security personnel worked hard to provide an open and safe environment for the Washington policy-making community to hear the address by President Erdoğan.
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