President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly rejected criticism that there has been a systematic crackdown against free speech in Turkey, saying the country respects the freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
"We have never done anything to stop freedom of expression or freedom of the press," Erdogan said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday during his five-day visit to the US.
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) 30 Mart 2016
"On the contrary, the press in Turkey has 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," he said in the interview which was broadcasted on Thursday.
The Turkish president began a visit to the US on Tuesday in order to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit and held several meetings with top leaders from the business world. He met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday and President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Erdogan repeated the stance of the government that no journalist is in prison or under prosecution because of their work in journalism. He also said he welcomed all manner of criticism, but could not tolerate insults.
"When it comes to insult and defamation, of course I have problems," he asserted, during a speech at the prestigious US think tank, Brookings Institution, on Thursday in Washington DC.
"I'm not at war with the press," Erdogan declared, questioning whether the criticism directed against his office and the Turkish government was genuine.
"We have to define what war against press stands for in your point of view and in my point of view," he told Amanpour.
"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," he expounded.
"Wherever you go around the world, this will be the case. Engaging in actions which are not allowed by law should have certain prices to pay," he stated.
On Nov. 26, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dundar, and its Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, were arrested on charges of political and military espionage, membership of a terrorist organisation, and revealing confidential information.
They have been facing an investigation after publishing several images and video footage on May 29 showing guns and ammunition that were allegedly carried in Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) trucks.
In January 2014, several trucks of the MIT were stopped by local gendarmerie in the southern Adana and Hatay provinces on the grounds that they were loaded with ammunition and headed to groups in Syria, despite a national security law forbidding such a search.
The two journalists were released in late February pending a trial after Turkey’s constitutional court said that their rights had been violated.
Despite their release, they are still facing possible life sentences.