ANKARA (Hürriyet Daily News)—The new U.S. envoy to Ankara, who criticized Turkey late Tuesday for detaining journalists while saying it supports freedom of speech, has been slammed by ruling party officials for “interfering” in domestic affairs.
“Ambassadors cannot interfere in domestic issues. They have limits,” Hüseyin Çelik, the deputy leader and spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, told reporters Wednesday. “Whether this is the U.S. or the Russian ambassador, they have to adhere to the limits.”
Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone drew Çelik’s ire with comments he made at a reception at his residence late Tuesday, where reporters asked him his opinion about a recent raid on Oda TV, a dissident online news portal.
“Journalists are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of speech are given on the other. We do not understand this, so we ask you,” Ricciardone said, adding that he does “not have full knowledge of the details,” but is “following the process closely.”
The offices of Oda TV and the homes of its owner, the well-known journalist Soner Yalçın, and several staff members were raided Monday by Istanbul police based on suspected links to the alleged Ergenekon gang, which is accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.
“Turkey wants a free press. Turkish people want a critical press even if it is a dissident one. The opposition parties and the government say they support freedom of the press,” Ricciardone. “The Turkish people’s opinion is important. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are vital for Turkey, the United States and the people of this region.”
Ricciardone’s words also drew a reaction from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. envoy “had praised Turkey’s democratization process” during a meeting with him Tuesday. “He may have been influenced by the media [coverage],” Arınç said.
Deputy AKP leader Çelik also criticized the journalists’ decision to pose such questions to a foreign ambassador. “We have this habit: We ask in-season and out-of-season questions. And when we get a reply, we ask others why he or she has spoken this way,” he said. “OK, but why do you ask questions? I mean, why do you ask questions to irrelevant people?”
The country’s main opposition, however, expressed approval of Ricciardone’s statement on press freedom. “The mission of the envoys is to closely follow the developments in the countries they are appointed to and inform their governments. If need be, the ambassadors also express openly their opinions. Is it possible for him not to make any observations when these things are happening?” Osman Korutürk, deputy leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.
Saying the U.S. envoy’s observation is shared by ambassadors from other countries as well, Korutürk added: “We are a candidate country to the European Union. It’s very normal for the ambassadors of EU countries and other countries to speak about deficiencies in terms of democracy and human rights.”