Journalist Labeled a Terrorist for Asking Turkish President Erdogan if He Is a Dictator

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint press conference with European Council President in Ankara, Turkey, September 9, 2015.

A Finnish journalist has been accused by pro-Turkish government media of being linked to the terrorist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after asking Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whether or not he is a dictator, as some have claimed.

During an October 13 joint press conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Erdogan was asked by Finnish journalist Tom Kankkonen about his views on allegations that he is a dictator, notes Today’s Zaman.

Kankkonen asked, “People are afraid of you. There are people who say you’re a dictator. What do you say to that?”

Prior to answering the question, the Turkish president asked Kankkonen which newspaper he was working for.

“You, perhaps, cannot ask such a question in a country ruled by a dictator,” replied Erdogan.

“Erdogan went on to explain at length that he and his family members are the target of relentless insults,” reports Todays Zaman. “He claimed he has been very tolerant of these insults in the past and that he continues to tolerate them.”

Erdogan is known to describe criticism leveled against him as “insults.” Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey.

“It is rare for Turkish journalists to ask Erdoğan or other ministers critical questions because of a two-year accreditation system that is being used to keep journalists critical of the government out of press conferences,” notes Today’s Zaman.

The Star, Sabah, and Aksam daily news outlets, known for being mouthpieces for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and the Turkish president, published stories on their websites on Thursday “exposing” Tom Kankkonen’s alleged “criminal past,” saying the Finnish journalist has visited PKK camps, and releasing images that purportedly show him with PKK terrorists, points out Todays Zaman.

Kankkonen was described as a “provocateur” by the Aksam daily, which also noted that the Finnish journalist has asked Erdogan “provocative questions” in the past.

“The daily accused Kankkonen of asking Erdoğan in 2013 about his increasing interference in the lives of male and female students. Then-Prime Minister Erdogan made a statement on Nov. 6, 2013 saying his government may take action against male and female students living together,” reports Today’s Zaman.

“No one knows what takes places in those houses [where male and female students live together]. All kinds of dubious things may happen… Anything can happen. As a conservative, democratic government, we need to intervene,” said Erdogan at the time.

On October 13, the Finnish journalist also highlighted the twin bomb attack that killed nearly 100 people and injured hundreds more in Ankara last weekend, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkey’s history.

Kankkonen asked, “Some people have been claiming the state is involved in the terrorist attack in Ankara. What do you think about these claims?”

The bomb blasts hit a peace rally of pro-Kurdish and leftist activists outside Ankara’s main train station on Saturday.

Turkey’s Prime Ministry reported that 97 people were killed and more than 500 others were wounded.

Interior Minister Selami Altınok has denied any involvement in the incident, arguing that police took all the necessary security measures.

Nevertheless, Erdogan conceded that there was an intelligence gap that may have contributed to the attack.

“It would be arrogant to say there was no intelligence failure here. There is certainly a mistake, a failure here, but the details will be revealed through investigations,” said Erdogan during a press conference in Ankara on Tuesday,

Erdogan’s government has launched a military campaign against the PKK and other affiliated groups, initially advertised as an offensive to destroy the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.

A surge in violence has plagued Turkey since a ceasefire between the Turkish army and the PKK collapsed in July.