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US State Department condemns rebuke of VOA reporter by Turkey’s far-right leader

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The US State Department has condemned the rebuke of a Voice of America reporter by the leader of a far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Ankara this week, recalling that freedom of speech is protected in Turkey’s own constitution, the VOA reported.

Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli rebuked VOA Turkish edition reporter Yıldız Yazıcıoğlu, who was among a group of journalists trying to ask him questions following a party meeting in parliament on Tuesday.

“Mind your own business,” an angry Bahçeli told Yazıcıoğlu in front of the cameras and then walked away when the journalist was trying to ask about the murder of Sinan Ateş, the former president of the Grey Wolves, the MHP’s youth wing.

Yazıcıoğlu was also pushed away by an MHP official near Bahçeli.

When State Department spokesperson Ned Price was asked about the incident in an email from VOA, he replied: “Freedom of speech – including journalists’ freedom of speech – strengthens democracy and needs to be protected, even when it includes speech that some find controversial or offensive. The US condemns threats, harassment and violence against journalists and media workers.”

Price said the people of Turkey deserve to enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of punishment and the right to exercise freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association is enshrined in Turkey’s own constitution, international legal obligations and commitments to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Price, who was also asked about the incident during a press briefing in Washington on Tuesday, said he was not immediately familiar with the incident and would need to look into it.

“What I can say is, as a general matter, is that we support freedom of the press, the ability of journalists and reporters to conduct their indispensable work free of harassment, free of threats, free of violence around the world. It’s a principle that applies to countries around the world. So we’ll have to look into that,” Price said on Tuesday.

A statement made by the party later described the journalist as a “provocateur” and “agent,” claiming that her attitude does not comply with professional ethics.

The MHP statement said the journalist’s links to “anti-Turkey” journalist Can Dündar, who lives in exile, and her being a staff member of VOA, which is “one of the leading propaganda tools of the US,” reveal the unhappiness of these circles with the MHP and Turkey.

In Turkey, which has a poor record on freedom of the press, journalists frequently face harassment from judicial authorities and politicians for their journalistic work not favored by the government or its allies.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

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