Members of a Turkish delegation attempted to interrupt a speech by Emre Çelik, affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, during a conference organized by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA).
According to an MEF report on Tuesday, Çelik, who was removed from the conference program at the request of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was still invited to address the gathering, which took place in Philadelphia Sept. 18 and 19. The MEF said the conference “was disrupted when Turkish members of the delegation stormed out rather than listen to a dissident voice.”
The Turkish representatives tried to interrupt and then walked out of the event in protest of Çelik, the president of the Rumi Forum, an association linked with the Gülen movement, which Turkey blames for a failed coup attempt in July 2016.
“NATO exists ‘to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization’ of member states. But the Republic of Turkey has betrayed those principles. President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it,” said MEF President Daniel Pipes in response to agitated reactions from the Turkish delegation.
Calling Erdoğan’s demands “autocratic,” MEF Director Gregg Roman said: “We were honored to host the impressive delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Its staff should not have acquiesced to an egregious demand from an autocrat. I hope the parliamentarians appreciate our stand for freedom of speech.”
Turkey has been at the center of criticism among its Western allies due to violations of human rights, freedom of expression and a government crackdown on critics, especially after a failed coup last year.
Over 146,000 people, including many in the armed forces, police and judiciary as well as the education and business sectors, were fired from state jobs. Nearly 125,000 were detained and more than 58,000 arrested over alleged links to the failed coup.