We recently discussed the latest authoritarian move by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in rounding up dozens of academics who signed a peace petition. The move was denounced throughout the world, but Erdogan is clearly unmoved. Now, those who objected to the crackdown and loss of the freedom of speech are themselves being targeted by the government. Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is facing arrest after saying that “Academics who express their opinions have been detained one by one on instructions given by a so-called dictator.” Prosecutors launched an investigation into Kilicdaroglu’s comments on charges of “openly insulting the president.”
Like most of the world, we have watched the rapid decline of civil liberties in Turkey after the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. Just recently, we discussed the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. Who, incidentally, gained notoriety by calling people who use birth control “traitors” and claimed Muslims discovered America. You certainly are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan, as shown by the prosecution of model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac, 26, for criticizing Erdogan by quoting a few lines from a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz. Erdoğan’s totalitarian measures have earned him the nickname “Buyuk Usta” (the Big Master). Even a joking reference to Gollum and Erdoğan is enough to land you in jail today in Turkey.
Now, even decrying the loss of free speech by others, is enough to land one in a Turkish jail. Despite Erdogan’s infusion of Islamic principles into government and his wholesale rollback on civil liberties, he remains the most popular figure in Turkey. He is a troubling example of how people can come to embrace a dictator and celebrate their own denial of basic rights.