Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accused CNN International of assigning reporters “to work like spies” in order to subvert his regime.
Erdogan’s statements came in response to international criticism after Turkish police arrested CNN’s Ivan Watson while he was covering protests in Instanbul’s Gezi Park live on air on Saturday. Saturday’s demonstration marked the anniversary of last year’s explosive protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square, which began when police unleashed tear gas on residents staging a peaceful sit-in against the construction of a new shopping mall. As last summer’s protests grew, police lashed out with tear gas and bullets, leading to eight deaths.
Despite roadblocks and a government-ordered shut down of public transit, demonstrators turned out in force on Saturday to call attention to Erdogan’s increasingly repressive regime. Their chants of “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance” were met with tear gas and water cannon attacks by a police force of 25,000.
In the middle of covering the clash between demonstrators and police, CNN’s Ivan Watson was kicked by police and detained for 30 minutes. “International media organizations who came to Istanbul for provocative and exaggerated broadcasts were left empty-handed,” remarked Erdogan in a conference with leading AKP party members Tuesday. Watson’s detainment and repression of the media during the protests are more likely to reflect Erdogan’s suppression of the media than discredit the “lackeys” of the international press, who the prime minister claimed to have “caught red-handed.”
“I want my people to see clearly that young people were used as pawns by internal and external traitors in the Gezi incidents,” remarked Erdogan in a television address following last year’s crackdown. First and foremost among these traitors, according to the prime minister, is the media. Calling social media “the worst menace to society,” Erdogan enacted legislation banning Twitter and YouTube in mid-March, which was met with a wave of criticism from around the world.
Both bans have since been overturned by Turkey’s top court, but freedom of the press in Turkey remains dismal. In the Center for Protection of Journalists’ 2013 Prison Census, CPJ reported that Turkey was the world’s leading jailer of journalists for the second year in a row. While Edrogan’s government released a few high-profile detainees in March, Turkey still holds 21 journalists behind bars.
On Saturday, a senior official of the Turkish government stated Erdogan would run for reelection in the country’s presidential election in August, which would see his rule extended to 2023. There is currently no opposition candidate in place to run against him.