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Erdogan: 'I'm not at war with press'
05:56 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN's Christiane Amanpour has an exclusive, in-depth interview with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey

Erdogan defends his treatment of news groups in Turkey; he's been under criticism for trampling on press rights

CNN  — 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied he is waging a war on the news groups in his country, despite criticism of his government’s record on freedom of the press.

“We have never done anything to stop freedom of expression or freedom of press,” he said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “On the contrary, the press in Turkey had been very critical of me and my government, attacking me very seriously. And regardless of those attacks, we have been very patient in the way we have responded to those attacks.”

Erodgan’s critics say he has begun a nationwide crackdown on dissent in the media – and society at large.

Turkish authorities seized control of the country’s largest newspaper this month.

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And on Friday, two journalists at the Cumhuriyet newspaper went on trial for espionage after publishing a video that allegedly showed Turkey’s intelligence agency funneling weapons into Syria.

Erdogan insisted that they had broken the law.

“I’m not at war with the press,” Erdogan told Amanpour. “We have to define what war against press stands for in your point of view and in my point of view.

“My country has laws in place. If a member of the press or an executive of a newspaper [is] engaging in espionage, disclosing a country’s secrets to the rest of the world, and if this conduct becomes a part of a litigation, a litigation will result in a verdict. Wherever you go around the world, this will be case. Engaging in actions which are not allowed by law should have certain prices to pay.”

Does the President have thin skin?

Erdogan is famously sensitive to criticism.

Insulting the President is a crime in Turkey, and more than 1,800 cases have been filed since Erdogan took office in 2014, according to the country’s Justice Minister.

And last week, a video mocking Erdogan caused a diplomatic row. Martin Erdmann, the German ambassador to Ankara, was summoned after a German comedy show posted a clip mocking Erdogan on the Internet.

Amanpour asked the President whether his response to the incident showed he had “very thin skin.”

“Satire, whether it be satire or not, everything has to have boundaries,” Erdogan said.

“A simple caricature, a simple sketch – that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you draw up a caricature … if you associate that subject with the things you’re not supposed to, then, of course, you can’t expect that to be acceptable.”

EU putting ‘irreversible obstacles’ in Turkey’s way

Erdmann was called in again this week after he and Britain’s consul general attended the opening of the Cumhuriyet trial.

The President was outraged.

“It’s OK for the journalists to come as observers to the trials,” he said. “It’s different to have the consul generals attending tribunals collectively, supportive of people who are allegedly engaged in espionage. [This] will never be tolerated.”

Concerns about Turkey’s troubled relationship with journalists has long been a point of contention between the county and the European Union, which says freedom of the press and of expression are nonnegotiable conditions for joining the EU. Erdogan said these were “irrelevant obstacles.”

“Although we are one of the first applicants to the EU membership, we’re still lingering at the doorstep,” he said. “We are still being kept busy with irrelevant obstacles, but we are very patient.”

Erdogan has been at the top of Turkish politics for more than a decade, serving as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014, when he was elected President. He remains popular at home.

“So long as you love the people sincerely and deeply, people will love you,” he told Amanpour.