Turkey’s authoritarian tone cast a shadow over EU’s human rights standards

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SHAFAQNA – Turkey again! One look at headlines, and news tickers clearly confirm how news worthy Turkey has become over the past few months … only not exactly for the right reasons – or so experts say.

“From its unflinching support to terrorist groups, to the brutal suppression of Kurdish opposition and the ongoing ruthless crackdown of the country’s free media, Turkey has been a thorn in the EU’s thigh – together an embarrassment and a political liability,” said Alejandro Lopez, a Spanish analyst for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa).

Indeed! If Ankara’s political tantrums have been somewhat absolved by European capitals in the name of geopolitical pragmatism – at least as far as Syria is concerned, Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s propensity to toe the authoritarian line at home has been a source of grave concerns. “Bearing in mind President Erdogan ambitions to become a fully fledge EU member, his recent crackdown against both the press and the political opposition – notwithstanding his military campaign against the Kurds, have made many heads of state very nervous,” emphasized Lopez.

While President Erdogan’s policies never exactly came across as “liberal”, in that he was never a champion for human rights, self-governance, and social justice, his new found taste for violence and blood-letting have taken many experts by surprise. But then again analyst Lopez argues, the writing was in fact very much on the wall.

“Erdogan’s descent into despotism was made possible by America’s exceptionalism, and a failure by European capitals to understand how their own rights violations would allow for dangerous precedent to be set. By creating a space outside international law, illegality was essentially allowed to flourish … or rather fester,” emphasized Lopez in exclusive comments.

Playing the terror card like a fiddle, Ankara has wielded terrorism as a powerful political weapon, labelling all opponents to the regime terrorists, to better rationalize its violence and systematic crackdown.

Erdogan has gradually evolved from a so called democrat to an authoritarian president since the improperly named Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. During this period Turkey has witnessed a steep deterioration in individual rights, including freedom of expression and press freedom.

Reporters without Borders has in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey as 149 out of 180 countries, which is an improvement on the three previous years, when it ranked 154. However, this was due to the conditional release of 40 imprisoned journalists, who nonetheless continued to face prosecution. Turkey’s situation as a whole. Now if you take into account gag orders against independent journalists, intimidation and defamation campaigns against independent journalists, politicians and bloggers, Turkey very much looks like, sounds like and walks like a brutal autocracy.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) “the number of journalists jailed in Turkey dramatically rose in 2015.” Turkey ranked as the fifth worst jailer of journalists globally in 2015, with tens of journalists currently behind the bars in the country.

Turkey’s transformation into a vengeful nepotistic state began in 2015, right in the middle of Turkey’s general election – a political exercise President Erdogan has no intention in losing control over. According to reports, a mob with alleged connections to the AKP’s youth branch attacked the offices of Dogan Media Group in Istanbul in September 2015, which houses Hürriyet newspaper, its English-language edition Hürriyet Daily News and another daily Radikal. That was then … Much has happened since.

Since early March, Ankara de facto seized control over two major news outlets in Turkey: Cihan News Agency and Zaman newspaper, thus obliterating any resemblance of a free press system in the country. Both news agencies are reportedly affiliated to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former political ally of Erdogan, now turned outspoken critic. Erdogan and Gulen’s spat began in 2013 when the latter allegedly leaned onto the judicial to open an investigation in Erdogan’s family dealings.

While the investigation for corruption was stopped by Erdogan, it nevertheless had a ripple socio-political effect of great magnitude. Turkey as it happened would never be completely the same. “Erdogan was more or less outed as a grabby politician with extravagant ambitions. Turkey’s honeymoon with Erdogan, or at least its willingness to overlook allegations of corruption ended in 2013 … from then on everything became increasingly clear,” said analyst Lopez.

He added, “Standing atop a political juggernaut, the AKP, Erdogan wants now to frame Turkey within an executive presidency, and abolish the current parliamentary system. This is the behaviour of a wannabe despot.”

Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish leader of the HDP, or People’s Democratic Party, said that “Turkish Erdogan’s leverage over the EU on the refugee issue had given him a free hand to use the military against opponents in the country.”

By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies

 

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