Photos and videos circulating Thursday appeared to show chaos erupting as reporters and protesters were waiting outside of a Brookings event where Turkish President Recep Erdoğan was due to speak.
Many journalists said they were roughed up by Erdoğan’s security detail before being kicked out of the event, which was hosted by the DC-based think tank Brookings Institution.
This Erdogan security detail called me “a pkk whore”
Never seen anything like this:a female protester just tackled. DC cops are in the street trying to keep Turkish guards from hurting folks
— Yochi Dreazen (@yochidreazen) March 31, 2016
Business Insider cannot independently verify the identity of the people who appear to have been removed from the event. However, Turkish journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan tweeted that “Erdogan’s abusive men grabbed me” and tried to remove him from the event even though he had shown them his credentials.
Video of that moment:
The scene was poignant given Erdoğan’s policy of suppressing media freedoms in Turkey, where hundreds of journalists have been arrested under his administration and accused of having links to terrorism.
The National Press Club issued a statement on Thursday expressing “alarm” about reports that Erdoğan’s security personnel had “physically abused journalists” outside the event.
“We have increasingly seen disrespect for basic human rights and press freedom here in Turkey,” the statement read. “Erdogan doesn’t get to export such abuse.”
Inside the event, Erdoğan responded to a question about his country’s practice of jailing journalists by saying “only seven of them [in jail] are actually journalists … and two have ties to terrorists.”
He added that while he accepts and encourages criticism, he cannot allow himself to be insulted by the press.
“Insult is not humane, …. Criticism is humane,” Erdoğan told Brookings’ Executive Vice President Martin Indyk. “I have seen insults involving my family, my children … from corruption to theft, anything.”
He added: “Despite all of these developments the people made me the president.”
Throughout the event, Erdoğan referred to Turkey’s democracy more than once in an attempt to justify the policies he was questioned about. Many experts have pointed out, however, that while Turkish elections are free and fair, they are undermined by the lack of free press that is essential to a well-functioning democracy.
Turkey’s largest opposition newspaper, Zaman, was seized by Turkish police in a raid on its headquarters earlier this month.
The government takeover of Today’s Zaman was evidently in response to Erdoğan’s perception of the paper as a front for the Gülen movement — a social movement led by the Turkish scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen that is openly critical of Erdoğan’s government.
The highly publicized arrest of Can Dündar, editor in chief of leading Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, was also widely condemned. Both he and Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, were detained after Cumhuriyet reported that a weapons shipment had been seized at the Turkish border, presumably bound for rebels in Syria.
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