ISTANBUL: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced new questions Friday over his attitude toward the media and women after he branded a prominent female journalist a “shameless woman” and told her to “know your place.”
Just ahead of Sunday’s presidential election which he is clear favorite to win, Erdogan savaged Amberin Zaman, who writes for the Economist and the Turkish daily Taraf, over comments she made in a television debate.
She had asked the main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the debate whether any Muslim society was capable of challenging its authorities.
Erdogan lashed out at Zaman, without mentioning her directly by name, at an election rally in the eastern city of Malatya Thursday, calling her a “shameless woman.”
“A militant in the guise of a journalist, a shameless woman ... Know your place!” he declared.
“They gave you a pen and you are writing a column in a newspaper ... and you insult a society that is 99 percent Muslim,” he said, drawing loud boos from the crowd.
This is not the first time Erdogan has lashed out at journalists, who have come under increasing pressure in Turkey, which has more reporters behind bars than any other country in the world.
The Economist released a statement in response to Erdogan’s remarks, saying its correspondent of 15 years was “widely respected.”
“We stand firmly by her and her reporting. The intimidation of journalists has no place in a democracy. Under Mr. Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly difficult place for independent journalism,” it said.
Zaman responded to Erdogan in her column in the Taraf newspaper, headlined: “Be a human first!”
“You are lynching a Muslim woman who described what you are doing. Because women are sitting targets, aren’t they?”
She said she had been the target of a smear campaign by pro-government media outlets, who had called her a “Jewish bitch” who should become a “concubine” of Islamist jihadists in Iraq.
Erdogan, a pious Muslim who has led the Islamist-rooted ruling party since 2002, has come under strong criticism from Western politicians and rights groups for his crackdown on the media. The U.S.-based watchdog Freedom House downgraded the status of Turkey’s media from “partly free” to “not free” in May.
The government’s attitude toward women is also under heavy scrutiny after Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc caused a furor by suggesting women should not laugh loudly in public.