Turkey warns US ambassador over remarks criticizing judiciary

US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone (Photo: AA, Ahmet İzgi)

February 07, 2013, Thursday/ 11:44:00

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone is in the Foreign Ministry to have talks with Turkish officials on Thursday amid debates over his remarks criticizing the Turkish judiciary.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesman Hüseyin Çelik said on Thursday morning that Ankara would warn the American ambassador over statements in which he criticized lengthy trials and the jailing of deputies in Turkey.

Ricciardone recently expressed his doubt over the ongoing Ergenekon case, in which military officials along with some businesspeople and academics are being tried on charges of attempting to topple the democratically elected government, questioning the way the Turkish legal system works.

He also did not refrain from stating his support for generals jailed pending trial as part of a probe into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network.

In a recent conversation with a Turkish journalist, Ricciardone said there are some problems in Turkey's anti-terrorism law and that it is not in line with international standards.

Ricciardone also criticized the way suspects who stand trial as part of coup investigations or facing other charges are treated. He said there are deputies who have been jailed for a long time and that the charges they face are not even known.

He said there are many military leaders in Turkey who were previously given the duty to defend the country and are now in jail. He added that the former head of the Higher Education Board (YÖK) and a number of professors are behind bars for unknown reasons. “As a matter of fact, it is difficult for American and European courts to make sense of this,” Ricciardone added.

He said some of the charges they face are related to their shady activities 16 years ago, and also criticized authorities for jailing students for participating in peaceful protests.

Saying that he does not want to interfere with the job of judges, Ricciardone nevertheless criticized the lack of transparency in cases and lengthy trials.

On Wednesday, Çelik lashed out at Ricciardone regarding his remarks on the Turkish judicial system, characterizing the US envoy's comments as meddling in Turkey's domestic affairs.

Çelik vehemently censured the envoy for his sharp criticism of the Turkish judiciary and urged him not to cross the boundaries of his position in Turkey.

Çelik said Ricciardone should know where he must stop before interfering in Turkey's domestic affairs.

“As soon as he arrived in Turkey, he began to deliver judgments over domestic affairs and the legal system. You are a diplomat; how can you make a judgment on those issues when you don't even know the whole nature of the events and how the system works? Who gives you the right to question [the political and legal system]?” Çelik said.

On Thursday, in a press briefing, Çelik defended his remarks and said his criticism of the envoy will not damage relations between the two allies. He added that allies don't have to agree all the time.

Ricciardone drew ire when he criticized the detention of journalists after a police crackdown on a news website during the first days of his service in Ankara in early 2011.

Among agenda items in talks between Ricciardone and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu is the ongoing investigation into the US embassy bombing last Friday. The American diplomat is also expected to personally thank Turkish authorities for their cooperation and solidarity during the embassy bombing.

Ricciardone and Turkish diplomats will discuss and exchange views on the latest developments in the investigation.

A suicide bomber detonated explosives at the entrance of the US Embassy in Ankara last Friday, killing two -- including himself and a Turkish security guard -- and critically injuring a journalist on her way to visit the ambassador.

The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on a website of an organization known to be close to the group. “Our warrior [Ecevit Şanlı] carried out an act of self-sacrifice by entering the Ankara Embassy of the United States, murderer of the peoples of the world,” the statement said.

Police detained several suspects in the past week in connection with the bomb attack.

Turkish media also reported that Ricciardone will express US concerns over a draft law on terrorism financing.

On Wednesday, Parliament began discussing the draft of the Law on the Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism, which was met with harsh criticism from the opposition.

According to the opposition, the draft in its current form gives the government the right to freeze the accounts of anyone suspected of financing a terrorist group, without due diligence in investigating the suspicions. A parliamentary commission took up the controversial draft in late January and adopted it despite the reluctance of the opposition. It was brought to the parliamentary General Assembly for discussion on Wednesday afternoon.

The government defends the draft as necessary in the battle against terrorism and money laundering activities.

The bill authorizes the Finance Ministry's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) to freeze the assets of those believed to be involved in financing terrorism, whether domestically or internationally, without having to obtain a judge's ruling first. The draft redefines the term “financing of terrorism” to include individuals and organizations who support domestic or international terrorism by providing funds.

Turkish media reported that Washington has some concerns over the draft law and Ricciardone will express these concerns to Ankara during the meeting.

On Thursday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also accused Ricciardone of meddling in Turkey's internal affairs and said it will be better for both Turkey and his country if the ambassador minds his own business.

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