Turkish Journalist Urging Americans To Pay Attention To What’s Happening In His Home Country

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Imagine if instead of just complaining about our country’s news media, President Trump took control of them.

Couldn’t happen in a democracy, right? Well, it’s actually happening to a key U.S. ally, and it’s something that should alarm every citizen.

Abdul-Hamit Bilici was the editor in chief of one of Turkey’s biggest newspaper, Zaman.  That was until that country’s democratically elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decided he didn’t like what it was reporting.

“He took control of the newspaper. He took over the newspaper,” Bilici said.

Bilici showed CBS4’s Rick Folbaum video of the takeover. Reporters were jailed, the paper’s readers were bloodied.

Bilici is now in the U.S. – urging Americans to pay attention to what’s happening in his home country. On Easter Sunday, President Erdogan won a controversial referendum giving him even more power.

Donald Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him.

“Trump will learn soon how it’s important not to lose Turkey as a democratic ally, because it will bring us to a point where we could have Turkey transformed into another country like Syria or Iraq,” Bilici explained.

Bilici says Erdogan’s power grab began with attacks on the press, taking over 90-percent of the country’s news operations, including his former paper.  Two-hundred Turkish journalists are in prisons right now.

“And so here we are, in our newsroom, surrounded by journalists.  What is the problem when you try to silence journalists?” Folbaum asked Bilici.

“The freedom of expression and the freedom of press is the most important and critical red line for any democracy,” he responded.

Folbaum then asked him about his take on President Trump labeling the U.S. media the enemy of the people.

“It was like a déjà vu for me. It was saddening because America’s a great democracy,” he said.

Mr. Bilici is a brave man to talk to CBS4.  Most of his family is still back home in Turkey, and he knows speaking out could put them at risk.

He says he hopes President Erdogan will steer Turkey back towards a truer democracy, and he says the U.S. must play an active role encouraging that.

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