Turkish minister attacks journalist for questioning refugee figures

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu rebuked a journalist who questioned his previous remarks on the number of refugees that left the country into Europe through its border province of Edirne, Tele1 news portal reported on Thursday.

Namik Kocak, a programmer at Tele1 news channel, posed a question to the minister during his official visit to Edirne saying: “You [previously] said that 140,000 migrants had left [Turkey and entered into Europe since last week]. However, we [as the channel] could not confirm this [figure through the authorities] in any  way.”

Thousands of migrants had made for Greece since February 28 when Ankara announced that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe.

Since then, Turkish border guards have been held back on land and sea, an act which caused 140,000 migrants to leave Turkey through Edirne, according to the minister. However, other reports stated the figure as around 10,000 at Turkey’s land borders and at least 1,000 on the eastern Aegean Sea.

Soylu responded to the journalist by asking how many reporters the channel had in order to confirm the figure and whether they had put a question to the governorship office about the figure.

“We also asked the governorship, but it could not confirm [the figure of 140,000],” the journalist answered the minister’s question.

“You are telling lies. Whom do you [as Tele1] take a stand [with Turkey or the EU]? You don’t seem to be on Turkey’s side at all. Because what you are doing here now is to express the lies and distortions of Greek and European media. Then [you mean] the Turkish interior minister is telling a lie, is he?” the minister asked angrily.

Soylu then read the figures of refugees who were allowed by the Turkish border posts to cross the border, stating explicitly that Ankara’s authorities were not halting the migrants but just counting.

“You [the journalist] are a citizen of the Turkish Republic, but you serve for others [Greece and the EU]. Trust in your state [Turkey]. It is impossible to make you believe [in the figure of 140,000]. Because you are here as a pawn of the Greek media,” the minister charged.

Later in the day, the journalist spoke to Zeynel Lule from Tele1’s Gun Ortasi program on his dialogue with the minister and the aftermath.

Kocak said police approached him after his question to the minister to control his press card and to carry out a criminal record check.

“The minister could not stand even a very simple question. They [the ruling Justice and Development Party – AKP] decide on who is patriot or traitor and who is not. I think all [allegation of a traitor, etc.] is because of his [the minister’s] disposition,” said the programmer.

Kocak, a journalist for more than 40-years, vowed that journalists in Turkey were able to ask questions to the rulers even under military rule in the 1980s.

“Today we are talking about a [ruling] power that cannot even stand questioning journalists,” the journalist said.

Ugur Dundar, a journalist and a programmer, condemned the minister and his traitor remarks.

“Namık Kocak, whom I know for years, is just [a] journalist and [a] patriot. Nobody, including a minister, can have a right to claim that he loves Turkey more than Kocak and to insult [Kocak by calling him traitor],” Dundar tweeted.

Similarly, Turkey’s Chief Ombudsman Seref Malkoc on Tuesday rebutted Mark Stone, a foreign reporter, who questioned Turkey’s alleged taking of hundreds of refugees by bus to the Greek and Bulgarian borders.

“You must go and ask such questions to the European officials. [You must] question their [European] insensitivity. [You must] ask the Greeks who are obliged to open the border gates [to the refugees] according to international law. You must thank the Turkish public,” the ombudsman responded angrily at the time.

Further, following Malkoc’s remarks, Jaffar Hashain, a reporter from the pro-government A Haber news channel, also slammed Stone saying: “You [the foreign reporters] always [try to] provocate here.”

“[Meanwhile] my colleagues are questioning the Greek and EU authorities at the other end of the border. You understand this, don’t you?” Stone responded to the pro-government reporter.

The Turkish act of allowing refugees to head to the EU followed the killings of at least 33 Turkish troops in Idlib last week in a deadly attack by Russia-backed Syrian government forces.

Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly threatened to open the gates, unless Turkey gets more international support in the Syrian conflict.

With the move of opening doors to the EU, Ankara expects to get more international support in the Syrian conflict even if it is in breach of a 2016 accord with the EU. Under the conduct, Turkey is obliged to keep refugees on its territory in return for billions of euros in aid.

Greece and the EU accuse Ankara of deliberately goading the migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.

Migrants face tear gas on Greece-Turkey border

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