Washington, D.C. (CNN)A Turkish journalist and researcher claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail harassed them at an event at the Brookings Institution on Thursday.
Turkish security confront press at think tank event
Before Erdogan's address to the Washington think tank, Turkish journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan told CNN that the security guards tried to remove him from the event despite him being credentialed, but that Brookings staff intervened so that he could stay.
Separately, Woodrow Wilson Center public policy scholar Amberin Zaman, who showed up to observe protesters gathered outside the event, said that the Turkish security detailed called her an offensive name. In addition, she described the men as having manhandled several of the demonstrators.
The Turkish Embassy declined to comment on the incident.
During his speech, however, Erdogan commented on the protestors outside, saying that they don't trust his tenure as president.
"I have seen some people shouting on the streets outside," Erdogan said in Turkish through a translator. "They are shouting, but they don't know what's going on back in Turkey. The freedom of expression has been regulated within the clauses of the Turkish constitution ... They are pretending that I have illegitimacy."
He also defended his position as president, saying that he was elected by the majority of the Turkish population.
"In terms of criticism, I have no problems with anybody whatsoever, but when it comes to insult and defamation, of course I have problems," Erdogan said. "Insult is something different than what criticism would stand for and would lead to. Insult is not humane, but criticism is very humane."
Erdogan has been under fire for how his administration treats journalists in his country. This month, Turkish authorities seized control of the country's largest newspaper, and on Friday, two journalists went on trial for espionage after publishing a video that allegedly showed Turkey's intelligence agency sending weapons into Syria.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Erdogan said he is not waging a war on the press in his country.
"I'm not at war with press," he said.
"We have never done anything to stop freedom of expression or freedom of press," he added. "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."
The D.C. police department said in a statement that there was a "skirmish involving demonstrators" and that the police department intervened and "separated the parties." No injuries were reported and no arrests were made, they said.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he watched Erdogan's security team try to remove Arslan, who works for the Turkish publication Ozgur Dusunce Daily and has been critical of the Turkish government.
"I think that Erdogan's visit to Washington speaks in volumes about his vision for Turkey," he said. "Turkish and Turkish-American journalists and scholars have been excluded or denied entry to his public events per requests by the president himself."
"There is little tolerance of freedom of expression (by the president)," Cagaptay later added. "Journalists have been excluded before. It's not the first time. It's an ongoing pattern."
"(The security) told me I was a traitor," Arslan told CNN. "In Turkey, if you don't support the president, you are (a) traitor."
Zaman, who does research on Kurdish affairs and was a former columnist for a Turkish newspaper, said that the security team called her a "PKK whore," referencing the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish organization that Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist group.
"I was not invited, but I wanted to observe the atmosphere," she told CNN. "(Security) had no reason to address me in that way, and it was unacceptable ... I refuse to allow these people to intimidate us. They censor journalists from doing their job."
Reports first surfaced on Twitter showing protestors outside Brookings as Erdogan prepared to deliver an address on the global challenges facing Turkey.
In response to the protests, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that they "remain, as always, committed to the right of peaceful expression and protest."
The Brookings Institution has not responded to multiple requests for comment.