ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned a foreign diplomat on Monday over a “selfie” taken at the espionage trial of two journalists, after Britain’s consul-general tweeted a photo of himself with one of the reporters.
Erdogan has harshly criticised Western diplomats after several showed up on Friday to support Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and his colleague Erdem Gul on the first day of their trial in Istanbul.
The journalists are accused of trying to topple the government with the publication of a video purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to ferry weapons into Syria by truck in 2014. The two face life imprisonment and their case has brought international condemnation and raised concerns about freedom of the press in Turkey.
“The consul general of a certain country went to the trial of a journalist charged with espionage, to support him. Moreover he gets a picture taken cheek to cheek (with the journalist) and had it published,” the state-run Anadolu agency quoted Erdogan as saying, citing the text of a speech to Turkey’s War Academy.
“And he does not stop at that, on social media he says things like ‘Turkey needs to decide what kind of country it will be’, words that exceed their intended meaning.”
Erdogan did not name the diplomat. British Consul General Leigh Turner on Friday posted a photograph of himself with Dundar on Twitter before the start of the hearing. Several other ambassadors, consuls-general and diplomats also attended.
Turner tweeted: “Key point not comparisons or history but Turkey deciding for itself what kind of country it wants to be.”
Asked about Erdogan’s comments, a British Foreign Office spokesman in London said diplomats regularly observe trials around the world in compliance with international conventions.
“This is an important case for freedom of expression in Turkey and we, along with our EU partners, will continue to monitor its progress,” the spokesman said.
Erdogan said the diplomat was only in Turkey because of the hospitality of the Turkish government, Anadolu reported.
“If this person could still go on working here that’s because of our generosity and hospitality. If it were another country they wouldn’t let a diplomat who exhibits this kind of behaviour to stay there a day more,” it quoted him as saying.
The Turkish foreign ministry is conveying its displeasure to some foreign governments over social media postings from the trial, an official said, adding that the sharing did not conform with the principle of impartiality and could interfere with an independent judicial process.
Erdogan, who has cast Cumhuriyet’s coverage as part of an attempt to undermine Turkey’s global standing, has vowed that Dundar will “pay a heavy price”.
On Friday, the court accepted the prosecutor’s request for Erdogan to be one of the complainants and ruled the trial should be heard behind closed doors, decisions that drew anger from the journalists’ supporters.
The trial comes as Turkey tries to deflect criticism from the European Union - which it aspires to join - and from rights groups that say it is muzzling a once-vibrant press.
Dundar and Gul spent 92 days in jail, almost half of it in solitary confinement, before the constitutional court ruled last month that their pre-trial detention was unfounded since the charges stemmed from their journalism work.
Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara and William James in London; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones