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Article Of Sneh Duggal Published On The 26.06.2013 In The Newspaper Embassy " Turkish Envoy Calls Liberal Motion ‘unhelpful’ " , 26.06.2013

Turkish envoy calls Liberal motion ‘unhelpful’

‘These kind of events can happen,’ says Tuncay Babali.

Published: Wednesday, 06/26/2013 12:00 am EDT

Parliament’s move to condemn the arrests of two CBC journalists in the House of Commons was “unhelpful” at a time when the Turkish Embassy was working to secure their release, says Turkey’s ambassador.

Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae introduced a motion June 12 condemning “the arrest and detention of two CBC journalists, Sasa Petricic and Derek Stoffel, in Turkey, and calls on the Turkish authorities to release them immediately.” The House of Commons unanimously adopted the motion.

“It was unhelpful in a sense because I was in the middle of working [on] their release at the time, and trying to take advantage of those situations for political gains sometimes complicates the matter,” Turkish Ambassador Tuncay Babali told Embassy in an interview June 17.

The Liberal Party did not respond to requests for comment. Embassy contacted Mr. Rae’s office from June 18 to 20, but was told he was not available for an interview. (Mr. Rae announced June 19 that he would be stepping down as an MP.) Repeated attempts were then made to obtain comment from the party’s main press office, without success, from June 20 to 24. Embassy was in touch with two spokespeople who both knew about the request, but no response was received before deadline.

“I wish he could have phoned me before...to understand what’s going on exactly,” Mr. Babali said. “I would assure [him] that they would be released.”

Mr. Babali said he did contact Mr. Rae after the motion was passed, and spoke with him about his thoughts.

“These kind of events can happen,” he said of the arrests, referring to other protests such as at the G20 in Toronto in 2010, or the Occupy Wall Street movement that began September 2011.

“The important thing is we have good communications lines so that we can address any misunderstandings, and just to release those journalists who are trying to do their job, and we do respect that.”

 

Behind the scenes of the arrest

It was around 10:30 a.m. on June 12 when CBC reporter Sasa Petricic’s Twitter account sent out a tweet that garnered instant attention across the country. It read: “Arrested.”

The foreign correspondent and his colleague Derek Stoffel were in Istanbul at the time when police took them in. They had been reporting on the past few weeks of protests in Turkey.

About five minutes after the tweet from Mr. Petricic’s account, Mr. Babali heard about it from a close friend. He then got on the phone with Foreign Minister John Baird’s office, and said the situation would be handled “swiftly.”

Soon after, Mr. Baird, who was in London at the time, called the Turkish ambassador and spoke with him about the arrests.

“Just got off the phone with the Turkish ambassador and expressed concern over reports of a CBC journalist detained in Istanbul,” Mr. Baird’s account tweeted about two hours after Mr. Petricic’s tweet.

Mr. Babali said he was in touch with CBC officials as well.

“I was in talks with them, assured them they are safe...and we are working very hard, and they will be released,” he said.

The ambassador got in touch with Turkey’s deputy foreign minister.

“He cc’d me with the governor of Istanbul and director general of national police [in an email],” Mr. Babali said.

He says they tried to verify whether the two journalists were in fact detained, and then why they had been arrested.

“There was clearly a misunderstanding,” Mr. Babali said. He added he pressed for the two journalists to be released and not be kept in custody through the night.

“In the first place, this shouldn’t have happened. But once this happened, it was handled, I believe professionally, and I am glad they are safe and reporting from Turkey,” Mr. Babali said.

Mr. Babali said once an issue is reported to the police, statements are needed from those involved. This can take time, because they need to be translated for example.

“These were all given, and after, the prosecutor, instead of [waiting until the] morning to look into the issue, immediately dropped everything and they were released,” Mr. Babali said.

It was 8:45 p.m. on June 12 that Mr. Petricic’s account tweeted, “We’re out!”

The ambassador updated his Twitter account as well throughout the day to let followers know what was happening.

Mr. Baird’s account sent out a tweet that night thanking the Canadian consul general in Turkey, and the Turkish government, including Mr. Babali, for their co-operation.

The protests in Turkey began when environmentalists opposed a plan to rebuild Ottoman-era barracks in Gezi Park in Istanbul. It turned into a larger public outcry against what some have called the Turkish government’s increased authoritarianism. There have been violent clashes between protesters and police, with reports coming out of the country about police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

 

Report, protests in Ottawa

Turkey has been gaining attention in Canada in different ways. While the Senate has called for increased focus on the country, members of the public have been hosting protests to show their displeasure with the Turkish government.

The Senate’s foreign affairs and trade committee tabled a report on Canada-Turkey relations on June 20 indicating that “Canada’s strategic priorities and commercial strengths coincide with Turkey’s foreign policy and trade objectives, as well as its commodity and import needs.”

The report listed six recommendations including: to maintain engagement between high-level officials; to speed up the launch of trade talks with Turkey; to help boost partnerships between Canadian and Turkish businesses; and for the two sides to sign a memorandum of understanding in science and technology, mining, and energy.

The report mentioned that while Canadian firms would face much competition from those in Europe, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, “it is not too late for Canada to capitalize on the commercial opportunities that Turkey has to offer.”

Meanwhile, a group called Ottawa Platform in Solidarity with Gezi has been holding protests throughout Ottawa “in solidarity with the resisting people of Turkey.”

About 50 people gathered at the Human Rights Monument on June 20 to “condemn the recent and ongoing human rights abuses and state violence against peaceful protesters in Turkey.”

sduggal@embassynews.ca

@snehduggal