ISTANBUL - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, chiding a NATO ally whose support is critical to American goals in the Mideast, said yesterday that Turkey must act on concerns about backsliding on human rights and its secular traditionsSource: Boston Globe
Speaking politely but firmly about the moderate Muslim nation, Clinton said the recent arrests of dozens of journalists and limits placed on religious freedom were “inconsistent’’ with Turkey’s economic and political progress.
She said Turkey should recommit itself to the course of modernization and embrace the democratic institutions of statehood. By doing so, Turkey could serve as a model for Arab nations now in the midst of revolt or transition, Clinton said.
“Across the region, people in the Middle East and North Africa are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey’s experience,’’ she told reporters at a news conference with Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. “Turkey’s history serves as a reminder that democratic development also depends on responsible leadership.’’
She called on the Turkish people to use their constitutional reform process to “address concerns … about recent restrictions on freedom of expression and religion’’ and boost protection for the rights of minorities.
Those concerns have stalled Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and further cement ties with the West.
Clinton noted that the United States has long backed Turkey’s EU membership.
At an earlier town hall event where she took questions from young Turks, Clinton criticized the arrests of journalists. She said the detentions have fed fears about threats to press freedom in the majority Muslim nation.
“I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey’s interests to be cracking down. It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made,’’ she said.
Turkey’s institutions should be able to withstand the scrutiny and debate that a free press brings, Clinton said.
Turkish media groups say more than 60 journalists are in jail. The groups accuse authorities of using flimsy evidence to bring the charges.
Government officials said in April there were 26 journalists jail in Turkey for activities unrelated to journalism.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Turkey is a member, says 57 journalists are in jail in Turkey, mostly on antiterror charges.
Clinton’s comments were likely to encourage more liberal Turks but irritate Turkey’s leaders, including Davutoglu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan, long seen as a vital bridge between East and West, has worried some by taking steps at odds with US and Western policies.
He insists that his ruling party, which has Islamist roots, is committed to a secular government. But since President Obama took office, Erdogan has clashed with Israel and opposed UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.