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Turkey Must Take Free Speech Seriously

The European Union is coming down hard on Turkey for its repeated violations of free speech and its detention without trial of several dozen journalists. Now, Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, has used a trip to Denmark to complain that Europeans unfairly criticize Turkey’s lack of press freedom and official intolerance of criticism. “I am sick and tired of being in a position to answer those criticisms everywhere I go,” he said in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Well, that’s rich. Why? Because last year Bağış tried to sue me for thousands of dollars in a Turkish court because I had dared describe in an interview about U.S.-Turkish relations how many American diplomats believed corruption a major problem in Erdoğan’s inner-circle. Who knew that describing the reality of diplomatic concerns would violate Turkey’s free speech sensitivity? The irony is that such criticism had been made not only by American officials, but was also acknowledged by diplomats at Turkey’s embassy in Washington. Wikileaks to the rescue: A 2004 cable from the U.S. embassy in Ankara supported concerns about Bağış:

“Erdogan’s other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to MPs and party intellectuals.”

Turkey has a free speech problem. Assigning Bağış, one of Ankara’s most intolerant figures, to assure Europeans Turkey is committed to free speech and liberal democracy is the ultimate sign that Turkey is not serious about its reforms. That Reporters Without Borders rates Turkey’s press freedom in the same neighborhood as Russia’s should be a sign that if something is rotten in Denmark, it is not the Danes.



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