US Vice President Joe Biden on Friday strongly criticized Turkey for failing to set the right “example” on freedom of expression, following the imprisonment of journalists and investigation of academics who criticized government policy.
Biden said Turkey’s most recent record in freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “not the kind of example that needs to be set”.
Speaking at a meeting with civil society representatives in Istanbul, Biden said the United States wanted to see Turkey set a “strong example” for the whole region of what a “vibrant democracy” means.
“The more Turkey succeeds, the stronger the message sent to the entire Middle East and parts of the world who are only beginning to grapple with the notion of freedom,” said Biden.
But he lamented recent developments in Turkey, which have seen the imprisonment since November 26 of the Cumhuriyet daily editor-in-chief Can Dundar and its Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul on charges of revealing classified information.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have launched a vast investigation against more than 1,200 academics who signed a petition criticizing the military crackdown in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
Some two dozen academics were detained for questioning and while all were released, they remain under investigation.
Meanwhile, the government has also gained notoriety for ordering blocks on YouTube, Twitter and other social networks during times of crisis.
“When the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when Internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down, and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that’s not the kind of example that needs to be set,” said Biden.
The US vice president, who arrived in Istanbul on Thursday night, is due to meet Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for critical talks on Saturday.