Turkey and Iran say response to protests in France shows West’s 'hypocrisy'

Reluctance to criticise France or the French police stands in sharp contrast to sharply worded EU responses to unrest in Turkey, Ankara said.
Thursday 13/12/2018
 French students take part in a march to protest against the government and the education reforms, in Paris, France. (DPA)
French students take part in a march to protest against the government and the education reforms, in Paris, France. (DPA)

ISTANBUL - Turkey and Iran said Europe’s muted response to riots in France was a sign of the West’s hypocrisy, showing that unrest in other regions often attracted much more critical scrutiny than protests in the European Union.

Officials in Ankara and Tehran poured scorn on Western politicians and activists, accusing them of issuing statements of concern about human rights violations in response to protests in Turkey and Iran but staying mum despite burning barricades and police beating demonstrators in Paris and other French cities.

Demonstrations in France by protesters, wearing the yellow safety jackets carried by law in all French cars, began November 17 with slowing or blocking traffic on roads around the country to protest anti-pollution fuel tax hikes. The movement snowballed into a bigger protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s administration.

Paris has seen some of the worst clashes in decades between protesters and police. More than 1,700 people across France were arrested during “yellow vest” protests December 8-9.

Many EU leaders reacted cautiously to the riots in France. In Germany, ministers were urged not to stoke confrontation with Paris over Macron’s promise of more government spending to calm the protests, despite concerns over fiscal discipline, Agence France-Presse reported.

That reluctance to criticise France or the French police stands in sharp contrast to sharply worded EU responses to unrest in Turkey, Ankara said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused rights activists of double standards. “Those who defended human rights during the Gezi protests have become blind, deaf and mute to what’s happening in Paris,” Erdogan said during a televised speech December 10. He was referring to the 2013 anti-government unrest that started in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and that sparked widespread protests from rights campaigners.

Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticised the “disproportionate violence” used by riot police against protesters in Paris. French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn dismissed the comments as “interference.”

Turkish authorities are often criticised by Ankara’s Western allies and human rights organisations for what they say is the brutal repression of large protests.

Following the arrest of tens of thousands of people after the failed July 2016 coup, the European Union and rights activists accused Erdogan’s administration of eroding the rule of law. In response, Turkish officials said Europe and the United States have supported movements aimed at toppling the government in Ankara.

“You (activists) mobilised the world during the Gezi events. Why? Because this is Turkey? Come on, explain it (the protests) in the same way now,” Erdogan said.

Turkish government media were accused of hypocrisy in connection with the riots in France. In a video clip widely shared online, a Turkish-speaking protester in Paris ran after a camera team of Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT, shouting that it never bothered to report on anti-government protests in Turkey but had turned up in Paris.

In Iran, judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani expressed similar sentiments to Erdogan’s. “If these protests had happened anywhere but a Western country, you would have already seen the United Nations and many foreign ministries get involved,” Larijani said in a report published by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

He contrasted the international response with the reaction to protests that hit dozens of Iranian cities a year ago, sparked by a range of political and economic issues. “In the protests in Iran last year, the officials of European countries, including France, made such a din and uproar, and repeatedly ‘expressed concern’,” Larijani said. “Now look how French police treat people.”

Iran warned its citizens to avoid protest-hit areas in France. The Foreign Ministry said Iranians living and travelling in France should “take precautions and seriously refrain from going to centres of protest and violence.”