Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Turkey and Denmark clash over press freedom

(reposted from the Site of Kurdistan Regional Government)


Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke of a " Fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression "
Teresa K├╝chler 16 Nov 2005

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a joint press conference with the Danish leader in protest at the presence of a Kurdish TV station on Tuesday (15 November), highlighting European values on free speech.

"There is a fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression," the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the press conference his Turkish counterpart avoided.

The Turkish prime minister was visiting the Danish capital Copenhagen as the first stop in a tour around EU capitals to discuss the prospects of Turkey's EU membership.

Mr Erdogan stayed away from the press conference in protest at the presence of a journalist from the Danish-based TV channel Roj TV.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Denmark to close the channel, which sends news, entertainment, debate and children's' programs to Kurds in Denmark, arguing it is financed by the Kurdish rebel party, the PKK, which is on the EU's list of terrorist organisations.

Danish police are investigating the station, but have not found evidence of links to forbidden organisations so far.

Mr Rasmussen said he regretted that Mr Erdogan did not attend the press conference, but pointed out that excluding the Kurdish TV-station from the conference would have violated the principles of freedom of expression in the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join.

He added that Turkey must realise that there are a few strict conditions that have to be fulfilled if Turkey wants to join the EU one day.

Turkish-Danish relations sore

Ironically, the official visit of Tayyip Erdogan to Denmark was aimed at improving relations between the two countries following a two-month row over press freedom and Islam.

In September, Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten invited cartoonists to submit drawings of the prophet Mohammed after an author complained that nobody dared illustrate his book on Mohammed.

Twelve cartoons were published, according to the newspaper, as "a test of whether fear of Islamic retribution has begun to limit freedom of expression in Denmark."

The cartoons caused outrage in Muslim communities in and outside Denmark, with eleven Islamic countries including Turkey writing official letters to prime minister Rasmussen to express offence and demand an official apology.

Mr Rasmussen has persistently said that freedom of expression is the very foundation of Danish democracy and that his government has no means of influencing the press.

"Freedom of expression is important, but more important is what is holy for me. I would never abuse my freedom of expression to attack those things that are holy to Anders Fogh Rasmussen," Mr Erdogan said in Copenhagen.

The timing of the Danish-Turkish clash is unfortunate, as earlier this week a survey conducted by statistics company Ramboll Management for Jyllands-Posten showed that 55 percent of Danes are opposed to Turkey joining the EU.