By Tuncay Kayaoglu
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told reporters in Istanbul that Turkey is a strong example for the entire region as to what a vibrant democracy means.
The veteran politician arrived in Turkey late Thursday to hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. These discussions are expected to take place on Saturday.
Biden met Turkish journalists and deputies from prominent political parties in Istanbul's Besiktas district on Friday.
In an address to NGO representatives and reporters, Biden said Turkey was an example for the entire region.
“The more Turkey succeeds, the stronger the message sent to the entire Middle East and parts of the world who are only beginning to grapple with the notion of freedom,” he said.
He also emphasized the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
“[These are] Two of the most important basic rights we Americans believe and your constitution says are basic, fundamental rights,” he said.
“If you don’t have an ability to express your opinion, to criticize a policy, to offer competing ideas without fear of intimidation or retribution, the country is robbed of opportunity and the country is being robbed of possibilities,” Biden added.
Biden said that free expression and a strong Turkish democracy matter “not only to Turks but to America”.
During his speech, Biden mentioned Turkey’s occasional moves to restrict social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
“When internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that’s not the kind of example that needs to be set in the region,” he said.
Last week, a collection of university lecturers called the Group of Academics for Peace issued a manifesto calling for end to fighting in southeast Turkey.
The region has witnessed security curfews and several towns have been cut off as the police and military battle the PKK terrorist organization.
The academics’ declaration sparked an investigation, amid accusations of making ‘terrorist propaganda’ and insulting the state.
More than a dozen academics were arrested over the petition, which accused the state of violating human rights and conducting a “deliberate and planned massacre”.
President Erdogan accused these academics of “making propaganda” for PKK terrorists.
The U.S. vice president also offered his condolences on the death of Mustafa Koc, chairman of Turkish’s biggest industrial conglomerate, Koc Holding.