Tensions rose this week over whether Turkey's press is free or not, as a major international watchdog issued a stern warning, while the prime minister accused the country's media of intentionally smearing his government.

The detention of journalists in Turkey is an "alarming threat to press freedom" and contradicts the country's image as a democratic role model in the Middle East, the U.S.-based human-rights organization Freedom House said in a press statement released Monday.

"This escalating war against media independence is seriously at odds with Turkey's self-proclaimed image as a model Muslim democracy," said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of Freedom House's Freedom of the Press index. The group criticized the "ongoing harassment" and detention of journalists in Turkey, including a number who have been held for two years without trial, and called on Turkish leaders to reverse the trend by instituting policies to protect media independence and releasing journalists held in cases where charges have not been brought or strong evidence has not produced.

On Tuesday, a day after he accused the foreign press of contributing to a "defamation campaign" against Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the domestic media for "backing" that effort. Speaking to his party in Parliament, Erdoğan criticized journalists for complaining about "the lack of press freedom when journalists are using their status as journalists to carry out a conspiracy." He called on the international press to look closer at the events in Turkey, accusing Turkish journalists of assisting terrorist organizations in the country. He warned that the situation in Turkey is being spun by the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

"Journalists in Turkey are free to write what they want without limits. Such an international campaign to destroy Turkey's image internationally, backed by a national campaign, is hurtful," he said. "We are a party that believes democracy cannot exist without freedom of press," Erdoğan said, defending his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

He added, however, that the AKP came to power "despite the media. No one should doubt that the people determined our course, not the media."


In its statement, Freedom House singled out for particular attention the cases of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, describing them as the country's leading investigative reporters. The two journalists were among a group recently arrested for alleged links to an illegal organization plotting to topple the AKP government. The arrests triggered widespread protests and received strongly worded criticism from the United States and the European Union as well as human-rights groups in Turkey.

"In all, some 50 journalists are currently in prison, one of the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists in the world," Freedom House said. "The harassment of media outlets and journalists who oppose government policies is a clear attempt to silence critical voices and to restrict media diversity," said Karlekar. "Other journalists targeted as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation – such as Mustafa Balbay – have been detained for more than two years without charge. These continuing detentions are a clear violation of the journalists' rights and those detained should either be charged and tried, or released," she added.

The entire Ergenekon prosecution, "with its open-endedness and absence of transparency" raises serious questions about the state of Turkish democracy, Karlekar said.

In addition to the mounting number of arrests, Freedom House noted with concern that over 4,000 lawsuits are pending against journalists in Turkey.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül expressed concern in recent remarks about the situation and said the arrests cast a shadow over the level of progress Turkey has reached, an image he said, which is lauded by everyone.

Erdoğan said, however, that no one was in prison in Turkey because of journalism but because of other charges, including membership in an armed terrorist organization.

Turkey is ranked as Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.



As people at Silivri prison are declared guilty due to computer printouts, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not accept the Kayseri document (as evidence). Erdogan did not consider Ali Hamurcu's hand-written bribery notes, which were sent to him by Republican People's Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu, as a "document". "They cannot be considered documents. There are no signatures on them," Erdogan said.



Professor Mehmet Haberal's attorney Dilek Helvaci said that Haberal suffered deadly cardiac arryhthmia twelve times after he was transferred to Silivri Prison.

Helvaci also said that Haberal's heart stopped twice on March 13, the first time for 22 seconds at 12:45 p.m. and the second for 42 seconds at 4:17 p.m.



Turkey provides a good example of the evolutionary success of an Islam-oriented government but cannot be copied as a model by Mideast countries currently trying to transition to democracy, according to a prominent academic.

"We must look at how much Islamists have evolved in Turkey," Oxford University academic Tariq Ramadan said Tuesday at the Leaders of Change Summit in Istanbul in reference to Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Ramadan said debate on whether Middle East and North African countries would adopt the "Turkish model" was irrelevant given that every country establishes a political model that suits to its own conditions.

Ramadan, who is also a descendent of the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, spoke at the summit's session on "Historical Changes in the Middle East: What's Next?"

"The Turkish political model is suitable for Turkey, the Tunisian one is for Tunisia, and so on," said Ramadan. "In this, there is no real model," Ramadan said, adding that "the models of Turkey and other countries could also improve in the name of better democracy."

"Instead, it is important to recognize that Turkey's success during the last decade indicated Islam could coexist with democracy," he said. "It is time now to stop the demonization of Islam [as has been done in the West for so long]. Not all Muslims are al-Qaeda," Ramadan said, adding that rather than dictate, Western countries had to listen to what people wanted in the Middle East.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that there would be no suspension of Turkey's projects on nuclear energy.

Holding a press conference in Ankara's Esenboga Airport prior to his departure for Russia on Tuesday, Erdogan said that they did not think to suspend Turkey's nuclear projects.

While some countries suspended or stopped nuclear projects following the nuclear leak in earthquake and tsunami-hit Japan, Erdogan said that Turkey wanted to complete its nuclear projects as soon as possible.

Noting that every investment had some risks, Erdogan said that all of the advantages of the modern world, such as industrialization and technology, had some difficulties, adding that Turkey would take all necessary safety measures.

According to official figures, 3,373 people were killed and 6,746 others were reported missing after Friday's earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. Officials think death toll will exceed 10,000.

Meanwhile, radiation spread from the four stricken reactors of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant along Japan's northeastern coast.



Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said Turkey stands side by side with the Libyan people in their quest for peace, freedom and fraternity. "The Libyan people should close their ears for false allegations regarding our country. Turkey is not after oil wells in Libya. It is out of question that Turkey takes sides with arms dealers in a confrontation between brothers," Erdogan told his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers at a meeting at parliament.



Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented on the latest developments on Turkey's agenda on his way to Moscow.

Criticizing Republican People's Party's forecasts about the upcoming general elections, Erdogan said, "I said I would quit if my party cannot come in first in the elections. I will not mention any figures, but what polls show is a vote rate of around 45-50 percent."



Israel launched an operation in the Mediterranean against Liberian flagged ship that set sail from southern province of Mersin on Sunday evening.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said they seized a large amount of weapons in the ship "Victoria," which they believe to be meant for Hamas. The weapons in the ship originated from Iran.



A Turkish newspaper says it has linked up with WikiLeaks to publish thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables covering Washington's relationship with Turkey, the country from which the largest number of cables originated.

Taraf said Wednesday it reached a deal with WikiLeaks that had sought cooperation with the liberal newspaper. An Indian newspaper, the Hindu, began publishing U.S. diplomatic cables related to India on Tuesday in a similar deal.

Taraf says it will begin publishing reports on the cables on Thursday.

U.S. President Barack Obama had assured Turkey that the release on the WikiLeaks website of U.S. diplomatic cables containing negative comments about the Turkish government did not reflect the view of the current U.S. government.


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