Turkish President Gül’s veto of Internet bill will be vital: Freedom House chief

Turkish President Gül’s veto of Internet bill will be vital: Freedom House chief

Cansu Çamlıbel ISTANBUL / Hürriyet
Turkish President Gül’s veto of Internet bill will be vital: Freedom House chief

Protesters shout slogans, hold banners and wave flags as they demonstrate in Ankara Feb 8 against new controls on the Internet approved by Turkish parliament this week. REUTERS photo

The president of a Washington-based NGO has joined the chorus calling for President Abdullah Gül to veto the controversial Internet bill recently adopted by the Turkish Parliament. “We are among the international organizations that are appealing to him. I hope he will veto it,” Freedom House President David Kramer told daily Hürriyet.

The Freedom House delegation held meetings with Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç in November, though the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan didn’t respond to its request.
“Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse after our visit. We expect the government and all authorities to take the initiative as soon as possible to stop the worsening situation related to freedom of expression. This is why President Gül’s [potential] veto is so vital,” Kramer said.

A Freedom House delegation released its special report, titled “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media and Power in Turkey.” The report, which criticized Ankara’s moves to pressure the media, as well as the controversial recent legislation proposed for the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, stressed that the United States “urgently needs a policy that fits the reality of current events in Turkey.”

Asked if a statement from U.S. President Barack Obama condemning these moves could backfire in Turkey, where the government treats any negative response from the world as a conspiracy, Kramer said this was unlikely. He said such a move from Obama would be instead beneficial. 

“If concern is voiced at the top level, the possibility for [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan to twist and present it as a Western conspiracy would be lower,” he said. Kramer added that U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone had voiced his concerns aloud previously, but “was not supported enough by Washington” in the face of stringent attacks from the Turkish government. “This is an example showing that higher level responses are needed against what’s happening in Turkey these days,” he added.

“Of course, I don’t expect President Obama to speak about Turkey or another country every day. But I expect him to speak if the media faces harsh measures or if journalists face the risk of being jailed or prosecuted or - as in the latest case in Turkey - deported. The silence of the United States doesn’t help when there are increasingly worrying tendencies.”

He also touched on Erdoğan’s suggestions that the local elections represent a crucial test for the electorate to respond to the recent corruption allegations. “Elections cannot be a tool to decide whether corruption allegations are legitimate or not... I cannot understand how a corruption investigation can be concluded by an election,” Kramer said. Kramer said it was “normal to have various power bases inside the administration” and criticized the purges of the bureaucracy. “The purges in the judiciary and the police are so sweeping that it’s hard to tell who is for the government and who is a Gülenist now,” he said.