The Unraveling of Civil Society in Turkey

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Ever since the attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year, his administration has used that as an excuse to completely disregard civil and human rights. The Turkish government has been targeting political critics by linking them to terrorist organizations.

The most recent example is the trial of 17 staffers for Cumheriyet, a 93 year-old Turkish newspaper that has been critical of Erdogan. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a French press advocacy group, the Turkish prosecution are falsely connecting Cumheriyet to the Gülen Movement, the group allegedly responsible for the failed coup. However, the newspaper has scrutinized both the president and the movement. In an April report by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Cumheriyet is referred to as “one of the most important symbols of the Turkish republic.” The Council called for the immediate release of 10 of the 17 Cumheriyet employees, on the grounds that these individuals are being arbitrarily detained. The Cumheriyet trial began July 24.

RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire said, “Journalists are yet again being treated as terrorists just for doing their job. We have had enough of these mass trials, crazy charges and arbitrary detentions that are tragedies for the victims.” Turkey ranks 155th out of 180 nations on press freedom, according to the index by RSF. Over the past year, the government has crackdown on 150 media outlets. According to The Guardian, Turkey imprisons the most journalists in the world.

After the failed takeover, Turkey declared a state of emergency which entailed a deep increase in Erdogan’s authoritarianism. Erdogan has arrested about 50,000 people since July 2016, according to The New York Times. 160 of those arrested were Turkish journalists. Journalism is not the only profession under fire; Erdogan’s purge has closed down 1200 schools, 15 universities, and 50 hospitals. The nation has fired or suspended over 130,000 suspected dissidents from the private and public sectors. “In my own city, I am a refugee, “ said a former warden, who had been arrested and tortured for Gulenist connections, in a statement with The New York Times.  Those who have been purged are blacklisted and cannot regain employment.

Nations such as Germany have rightfully condemned Turkey’s actions. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “We cannot advise anyone to invest in a country where there is no longer legal certainty and even companies are being accused of supporting terrorists,” according to The Economist. His statement came after Turkey ordered the arrests of six human rights activists on June 18. Though Turkey has made token efforts to appease Germany, such as ending the blacklist on 700 German companies, there is little shift in their civil rights stances. According to The Guardian, Erdogan wishes to bring back the death penalty and extend the state of emergency by another three months. This has only alienated the international community, as it reduces the likelihood of joining the European Union. “If Turkey were to introduce the death penalty, the Turkish government would definitively slam the door on EU membership,” wrote Jean Claude-Juncker, the President of the European Commision.

As journalist Edward R. Murrow once said, dissent is not the same as disloyalty. If any government fails to recognize the difference, it polarizes the political debate and instead isolates itself from other members of civil society. All Erdogan is doing is reaffirming the beliefs of those who wanted to force him out of office and incentivizing opponents to take more radical actions.






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