Erdoğan to meet French President Macron with jailed journalists dominating the agenda

Erdoğan to meet French President Macron with jailed journalists dominating the agenda

Erdoğan to meet French President Macron with jailed journalists dominating the agenda

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will embark for Paris today for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron for their first official bilateral meeting since the French election in May 2017.

Controversy between Ankara and Paris about the state of freedom of expression and jailed journalists in Turkey dominated the agenda ahead of the meeting, after Macron voiced concerns about the issue and said he would raise it with Erdoğan.

Turkish Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said at a press conference on Jan. 4 that Macron’s remarks are based on a “lack of information,” if not “prejudice.”

Kalın said Erdoğan will present documents to Macron showing that those journalists are being prosecuted “not because of journalistic activities.”

“Those who try to cast shadow on Turkey’s fight against terrorism through the rhetoric on freedom of expression should better understand the realities of Turkey,” he added.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Macron had noted that “freedom of the press is not only being damaged in dictatorships only but also in some democratic European states as well.” He added that Turkey and Russia, as parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, must meet their obligations on the issue.

A French journalist, Loup Bureau, who was detained in a Turkish prison for more than seven weeks on “terror” charges, returned to France in September after Macron appealed to Erdoğan for his release.

Kalın cried foul regarding French criticism, noting that the French government declared a state of emergency after terror attacks in Paris and Nice.

“We are aware of the kind of measures that you have taken. We know how people who underestimated the attacks or expressed their views on them were arrested and taken to court,” he said.

Kalın stressed that Turkey has been involved in a struggle against three different terrorist organizations, bemoaning the “double standards” of Ankara’s “European friends.”

On the issue of jailed journalists, the presidential spokesman claimed that the government cannot intervene to the judiciary and said “the fact that a person is a journalist does not necessarily mean they are innocent and cannot commit a crime.”

Although the issue of freedom of the press in Turkey has cast shadow ahead of the meeting of the Turkish and French presidents, the planned official agenda of the talks includes weighty regional issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the war in Syria, Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and Turkey-EU relations.

On his visit to Paris, Erdoğan will meet business representatives including the CEOs of a number of French companies, as well as representatives of Turks living in France, Kalın said.

The Turkish president will also address the issue of what Kalın called the “increasing wave of Islamophobia.”

During the visit Erdoğan will meet a delegation of the Islamic Council of France and “will listen to the problems of Muslims living in France, discussing what to be done in order to improve their situation,” he added.

Kalın noted that Ankara welcomes France’s position over the recent move by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel, saying Erdoğan and Macron would discuss ongoing efforts for the Palestinians.

The Turkish government has recently voiced the intention to warm up ties with Europe in the coming months. Relations between Turkey and various European countries have been frosty, particularly since the July 2016 military coup attempt, and Erdoğan’s visit to France is considered a first step in Ankara’s bid to ease strained relations with European capitals.

The visit comes at a time when Turkey’s negotiations to join the EU have almost ground to a halt amid strong criticism of the government’s harsh measures taken since the coup attempt.