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Erdogan’s assault on freedom of speech

Tuesday, November 1, 2016  | 

Cem Özdemir, the co-chair of Germany’s Green Party, put it bluntly when he described the sad reality that is unfolding in Turkey: “In Turkey there is no freedom of press.” Turkish President Erdogan is pursuing a policy intended to silence opposition and critics, and solidify rule around his presidency. Erdogan’s authority to rule by decree since the attempted coup is resulting in a purge targeting freedom of thought in Turkey and, ultimately, threatening what is left of democracy in the country.

The arrests of the editor and multiple senior staff of one of the few outlets still critical of Erdogan, Cumhuriyet, signal the latest descent toward authoritarianism. According to The New York Times, over 160 news organizations have been shut down and over 130 journalists are currently in pretrial detention since the failed coup attempt in July, making Turkey the largest jailer of journalists in the world. When freedom of expression and critique is stamped out, democracy is inevitably weakened and suffers. Erdogan’s purge is drawing the attention of the international community.

The Washington Post Editorial Board recently warned that Erdogan’s behavior signals a sharp turn away from democracy.

Mr. Erdogan is constructing a kind of authoritarianism centered on his personal power, replacing critical media with mouthpiece organs, [and] suffocating independent civil society organizations… This is a colossal purge, tearing the heart out of any remaining hope for a democracy that depends on independent voices and unfettered political competition.

Meanwhile, the International Press Institute issued a statement condemning Ankara’s actions:

We are watching the complete extinguishment of press freedom in Turkey before our eyes. Having now fully discarded the rule of law, the Turkish government is removing the last critical voices from its path. Turkey’s international partners, who have tolerated President Erdogan’s obvious authoritarian ambitions for far too long, cannot allow these latest actions to proceed with impunity.

Additionally, US State Department spokesman John Kirby expressed his concerns regarding Erdogan’s most recent suppression of basic rights.

The United States is deeply concerned by what appears to be an increase in official pressure on opposition media outlets in Turkey. Democracies become stronger by allowing diverse expressions of views, particularly in difficult times.

President Erdogan’s attempts to silence opponents and critical voices is not only the last nail in the coffin for Turkey’s struggling democracy, but is also a cause for concern for Turkey’s neighbors.

Erdogan’s belief that he can do anything without consequences makes him dangerously unreliable. This is increasingly evident in his recent statements and provocations disputing the Treaty of Lausanne and threatening the territorial integrity of Turkey’s neighbors, including Greek sovereignty in the Aegean. This unreliability also poses a threat to the ongoing Cyprus reunification talks, where Ankara must make tangible contributions toward a peace settlement.

Ultimately, an authoritarian Turkish government without checks and balances, without respect for the rule of law, and without a free press holding leaders accountable to the public is a threat to democracy in Turkey and stability in the region. It is time world leaders condemned Erdogan’s dangerous rejection of basic democratic principles in his pursuit for unbridled power.

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