(EU Observer/TVNZ)–Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a joint press conference with his Danish counterpart on Tuesday–protesting the presence of a Kurdish TV station. The aim of that press conference was to highlight European values on free speech.
"There is a fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression," the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the press conference his Turkish counterpart avoided.
The Turkish prime minister was visiting the Danish capital Copenhagen as the first stop in a tour around EU capitals to discuss the prospects of Turkey’s EU membership.
Rasmussen said excluding the correspondent would have violated principles of freedom of expression in the European Union–which Turkey aspires to join.
"I told Erdogan that freedom of expression is fundamental when talking accession negotiations and to come nearer to membership," Rasmussen said.
Turkey formally began EU entry talks in October. It has overhauled much legislation to meet EU deman’s on human rights but faces continued accusations of torture and persecution–especially in the south-east where a Kurdish separatist rebellion killed 30,000 people over two decades.
Erdogan and Rasmussen were supposed to give the conference after their meeting in the Danish capital–but Erdogan stayed away in protest at the presence of a journalist from the Danish-based Kurdish channel–Roj TV.
"According to Prime Minister Erdogan–Roj TV is controlled by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party)–an organization that is listed on the European Union terror list. And according to Erdogan–Roj TV incites to terrorism," Rasmussen said.
Erdogan later confirmed the reason for his decision to stay away–making clear he saw the issue not as one of free expression but of fighting terrorism.
"We think differently [than the Danes] on this," he told a televised news conference on returning to Ankara.
"We cannot accept a mentality which accepts terrorism in their country," he added.
Case of the Novelist
Turkey has officially complained to Denmark that Roj TV is allowed to operate from the Nordic country. Danish police are currently investigating the station.
Rasmussen also expressed concern over charges brought by Turkish prosecutors against the country’s best-known novelist–Orhan Pamuk–saying they are not in line with EU ideas on freedom of expression.
Pamuk faces charges of insulting the state after he was quoted as saying Turkey should accept responsibility for killings of Armenia’s around the time of World War One.
Earlier on Tuesday–Erdogan distanced himself from the Pamuk trial–which has caused his reformist government considerable embarrassment as it tries to meet EU norms on human rights.
In a statement to NATO lawmakers gathered in Copenhagen he said it was his "clear hope that the judicial decision will be in line with freedom of expression and freedom of thought".
Turkish-Danish Relations Sore
Ironically–the official visit of Tayyip Erdogan to Denmark was aimed at improving relations between the two countries following a two-month row over freedom of expression and Islam.
In September–the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten invited cartoonists to submit drawings of the prophet Mohammed after an author complained that nobody dared illustrate his book on Mohammed.
Twelve cartoons were published–according to the newspaper–as "a test of whether fear of Islamic retribution has begun to limit freedom of expression in Denmark."
The cartoons caused outrage in Muslim communities in and outside Denmark–with eleven Islamic countries including Turkey writing official letters to Prime Minister Rasmussen to express offense and demand an official apology.
Rasmussen has persistently said that freedom of expression is the very foundation of Danish democracy and that his government has no means of influencing the press.
"Freedom of expression is important–but more important is what is holy for me. I would never abuse my freedom of expression to attack those things that are holy to Anders Fogh Rasmussen," Erdogan said in Copenhagen.
Earlier this week a survey conducted by statistics company Ramboll Management for Jyllands-Posten showed that 55 percent of Danes are opposed to Turkey joining the EU.