AFP – Turkey bluntly told the US ambassador on Thursday to stop meddling in its domestic affairs after he fired off a strident attack on the country’s justice system.
“Ambassadors should mind their own business. They should stay away from assessments that mean interference in Turkey’s judiciary and domestic affairs,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
In an interview with local media on Tuesday, US ambassador Francis Ricciardone criticised “the flaws” in the justice system, highlighting “lengthy pre-trial detentions, lack of clarity in presenting charges, lack of transparency”.
In particular, he took aim at the jailing of scores of military and political figures.
“You have your military leaders, who were entrusted with the protection of this country, behind bars as if they were terrorists,” Ricciardone said, adding that a number of lawmakers had also suffered the same fate.
“You have members of parliament who have been behind bars for a long time, sometimes on unclear charges,” he added.
“You have professors… You have non-violent student protesters protesting tuition hikes behind bars. When a legal system produces such results and confuses people like that for terrorists, it makes it hard for American and European courts to match up.”
The comments by Ricciardone, who has had an uneasy relationship with the authorities since his appointment in January 2011, came after a suicide bombing outside the US embassy in Ankara on Friday that was claimed by a radical anti-US leftwing group.
Ricciardone met with a Turkish foreign ministry official on Thursday in the wake of his comments.
“It is a question of warning the ambassador and drawing his attention (to our concerns) the issue,” said Huseyin Celik, spokesman for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But a US diplomatic source told AFP that the mission “has frequent and regular contacts with the Turkish government,” indicating that Thursday’s meeting was “nothing out of the ordinary.”
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has sought to tackle head-on Turkey’s powerful military, the self-appointed guardian of the secular state which has carried out four coups over half a century.
In September, more than 300 retired and active military officers were sentenced to jail for plotting to topple Erdogan’s government and hundreds more are still behind bars awaiting trial in a campaign to clip the wings of the armed forces.
Dozens of journalists are also in detention, as well as lawyers, politicians and lawmakers — most of them accused of plotting against the government or having links with the outlawed Kurdish rebel movement the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
On Wednesday, the AKP’s Celik criticised the ambassador for “not learning not to overstep his boundaries” despite warnings from the premier since his appointment.
Erdogan had called him a “rookie” after Ricciardone raised the issue of jailed dissident journalists in Turkey shortly after his appointment.