U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday that Turkey, once vaunted by Washington as a model of Islamic democracy, was setting a poor example for the region in intimidating media, curtailing internet freedom and accusing academics of treason.
"The more Turkey succeeds, the stronger the message sent to the entire Middle East and parts of the world who are only beginning to grapple with the notion of freedom," Biden said, flanked by members of Turkish civil society groups.
"But when the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites...are shut down and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that’s not the kind of example that needs to be set," he told reporters.
Turkey was cited by Washington as an example for the Middle East of a functioning Islamic democracy in the early years of then prime minister Tayyip Erdogan's rule. More recently, reforms have faltered and Erdogan, now president, has demonstrated a more authoritarian style.
Last week, he denounced as "dark, nefarious and brutal" more than 1,000 signatories, including U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, of a declaration that criticised Turkish military action in the largely Kurdish southeast.
Security forces briefly detained 27 academics on accusations of terrorist propaganda. Dozens face investigation by their universities.
The government says that the academics were held for promoting terrorism or for anti-state activities, not their journalism. It denies intimidating media bosses, many of whose parent companies hold lucrative government contracts in other areas of industry.
"If you do not have the ability to express your own opinion, to criticise policy, offer competing ideas without fear of intimidation or retribution, then your country is being robbed of opportunity," Biden said.