Erdoğan says six or seven Americans are behind bars in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the United States of supplying weapons to Turkey’s enemies in Syria and objected to the numbers cited by international organisations regarding political opponents and journalists behind bars in Turkey during a program on the U.S. television channel PBS on Wednesday.

Erdoğan criticised the United States for proving arms to Kurdish armed groups in Syria, which he said were the offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years.

“Think of our strategic partner engaging in such acts,” he told PBS NewsHour correspondent Amna Nawaz. “That is sad for us to see. It’s wrong.”

Erdoğan also commented on a recent deal between Turkey and Russia over the northwestern Syrian town of Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in the country. The deal between the two countries, which includes establishing a demilitarised zone in Idlib, effectively prevented an assault of the Syrian government against rebel forces and a potential huge refugee flow towards Turkey’s southeastern border. 

Erdogan said that the deal was “progressing well,”, adding that the two countries were working to remove heavy weaponry in the city and have identified the groups of extremist fighters who must leave.

Erdoğan also rejected the claims that he has been running a purge against Turkish political opposition. 

Erdogan said that tens of thousands of people had been detained following a coup attempt in 2016, but not the hundreds of thousands that his critics claimed.

“Currently there are people behind bars, it’s true. There are 32,000 detained people who have been arrested. It’s not hundreds of thousands like you have put. Those trials must, and I hope, will be completed by the end of this year,” Erdoğan said. 

He also said that there were six or seven Americans behind bars, not 15 to 20 as Amnesty International had reported, and “maybe 20 or 30” journalists, instead of the 73 figure documented by press freedom organisations.