US says criticism of Erdoğan has nothing to do with Fethullah Gülen

US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf has said that regardless of whether Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen was living in Pennsylvania or not, it would still not be OK for the government of Turkey to ban Twitter or crack down on dissenting voices.
Speaking at the State Department’s daily press briefing on Monday, a journalist suggested that the US government and the West in general are “more in line with” Gülen than Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and that this is why the US has stepped up its criticism recently on issues such as Erdoğan’s ban on Twitter and the corruption allegations.

Harf called this suggestion “ridiculous” and said: “Regardless of whether this gentleman [Gülen] was living in Pennsylvania or not, it would still not be okay for the government of Turkey to ban Twitter. It would still not be okay for the government of Turkey to crack down like they have on dissent. Those things have nothing to do with the fact that one of their citizens is living in the Pennsylvania countryside.”

“Aren’t you more in position with, for example, Fethullah Gülen?” asked the same journalist and Harf simply answered, “No.”

“Turkey’s a NATO ally. Let’s be clear here. Turkey is a close NATO ally. We don’t always agree on everything, but we don’t agree on everything with anyone,” continued Harf.

“So forget about the gentleman living in Pennsylvania. We have a bilateral alliance with the government of Turkey. We will speak out when we disagree. We will speak out when we agree. And it’s really up to the people of Turkey to make decisions about their government. We — It’s not up to us. Any reports that we have any impact on that are just crazy,” she added.

Answering a question about whether US President Barack Obama will congratulate Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his party’s success in the municipal elections, Harf stated she has no predictions about what anyone else might say, adding that she just knows what she’s saying.

Election results in Turkey

Harf said the US is following the local elections in Turkey, noting that final results have not yet been released.

“Obviously, we would congratulate the people of Turkey for their participation in these elections. And I am not going to comment further on the results of local elections or do any further analysis, particularly before they haven’t been officially confirmed by the higher elections council,” stressed Harf.

After the eruption of a sweeping corruption and bribery scandal on Dec. 17 of last year, implicating members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), including Erdoğan and his ministers, Erdoğan sought to discredit the investigation by calling it a “foreign plot” and an “attempt to damage the government made by a parallel state nested within the state.” Erdoğan accused Gülen of being in control of this parallel state. The prime minister immediately ordered the removal and reassignment of thousands of police officers as well as hundreds of prosecutors and judges who contributed to the investigation. In addition, Parliament adopted a bill to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which many said was aimed at strengthening the government’s control over the judiciary.

This was followed by a controversial law on regulating Internet news portals and websites, which was adopted by Parliament and approved by President Abdullah Gül despite public outcry. The law further increased people’s concerns about Internet freedom and people’s right to access information.

Gülen is in self-imposed exile in the US though there is no legal hurdle that prevents him from returning to Turkey. Shortly after he went to the US in 1999, he was charged with establishing an illegal organization in Turkey, but was acquitted in 2006 and that decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2008.

Twitter was blocked in Turkey on March 20 hours after Erdoğan vowed to “root it out,” stirring harsh reactions across the country and around the world and putting the ruling party’s reputation in jeopardy ahead of the local elections.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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