Erdogan: Obama spoke ‘behind my back’ on freedom of the press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused his American counterpart Barack Obama of going behind his back for criticizing Turkey's press freedom record, Reuters reported.

Obama said on Friday, after meeting Erdogan on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in Washington, that he was troubled by curbs on the press in Turkey and said he had urged Erdogan not to repress democratic debate in his country.

Turkey has drawn international condemnation for charging two journalists with treason for publishing footage that purportedly showed the Turkish intelligence agency shipping truckloads of weapons to opposition fighters in Syria in early 2014.

A year earlier, Turkish police earlier raided media outlets close to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of forming a 'parallel state' to undermine his rule and orchestrating a graft scandal targeting his inner circle.

In the past, Erdogan has also threatened to ban websites such as YouTube and Facebook when those websites leaked recordings in which Erdogan and his son allegedly discuss how to hide vast sums of money.

Responding to Obama’s comments on Sunday, the Turkish president said, "I was saddened to hear that statement made behind my back. During my talk with Obama, those issues did not come up."

Erdogan returned to Turkey after a five-day trip to Washington on Sunday.

"You cannot consider insults and threats press freedom or criticism," Erdogan said, according to Reuters.

Turkey has seized control of opposition newspapers and TV channels and cut the satellite feed of a pro-Kurdish channel, accusing them of terrorism-related activities. Erdogan has personally brought more than 1,800 criminal suits against individuals, including journalists and children, for insulting him since becoming president in 2014.

Criticism of Turkey's press record seeks to "divide, shatter and if they could, swallow up Turkey," he said on Sunday. "This is what I mean by mastermind. A mastermind is playing games over Turkey.

Obama’s comments and Erdogan’s reply came days after Turkey had a row with Germany over a song deemed insulting to Erdogan that was broadcast on a German public television satirical show.

Turkey summoned the German ambassador over the song, but both Germany and the EU rejected Turkey’s criticism and made clear that basic freedoms were "non-negotiable".


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