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26th Jan 2020

Turkey PM speaks of press freedom despite crackdown

  • Davutoglu (l) warned against the stigmatisation of Muslims in Europe (Photo: European council)

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday (15 January) said freedom of speech is as much valued in Turkey as in the West so long as it doesn’t insult Islam.

He spoke as prosecutors launched an investigation into the Cumhuriyet newspaper after it published four pages from Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose Paris office was attacked by Islamist extremists for its Mohammed cartoons.

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"Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult," Davutoglu said in Ankara, before heading to Brussels for talks with EU Council president Donald Tusk on Turkey's stalled EU-membership bid.

“We do not allow any insult to the prophet in this country," he added.

A court in Turkey on Wednesday ordered a block on websites featuring images of the latest Charlie Hebdo cover, which depicts a mourning prophet Mohammed with the headline “All is forgiven”.

Davutoglu's comments come amid an increasing clampdown on press freedom.

Around 60 journalists were dismissed or fired for their coverage of the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013.

In December of the same year, journalists were pursued for reporting on high-level government corruption, which intensified after police raided government offices in a graft scandal that implicated Turkey’s president.

The scandal led to tougher Internet laws and a temporary ban on Twitter.

Dozens of reporters, many of them Kurds, have been imprisoned or remain in jail on anti-terrorism laws.

The events have put Turkey near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

In Brussels, Davutoglu told reporters that Turkey stands by the people of France and Europe in the fight against terrorism.

“In Paris [at the Charlie Hebdo protest march] we stood shoulder to shoulder together … We don’t want to see any extremist approach, whether this [attack] or a Pegida approach against Islam”, he said, referring to the German anti-Islamisation movement.

“Freedom of speech is our common value”, he added.

Tusk, for his part, said the determination to defend the freedom of thought has intensified in the wake of the Paris attack.

“In light of the Paris terrorist attacks, our determination to defend our fundamental values, including freedom of thought, expression, and of the media, has only grown greater,” he said.

Meanwhile, in France, authorities have cracked down on some who are seen as promoting terrorism due to their views on Charlie Hebdo.

French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was detained by police on Wednesday after posting “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” on his Facebook page, which he later removed.

Coulibaly, part of the Charlie Hebdo gang, killed a policeowman and four Jewish civilians.

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French minister of the interior, said the comment had showed “irresponsibility, disrespect and a propensity to fuel hatred and division that is simply unbearable”.

But Pope Francis on Thursday also said freedom of expression has limits and should not insult a person’s religion.

He noted that if his assitant insulted his mother, he would punch him in the head.

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