We have followed the rapid decline of civil liberties under the authoritarian rule Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the past few years as well as his empowering of Islamic parties in the once secular state. This trend was evident recently with the rounding up of dozens of professors for simply signing a petition denouncing military operations against Kurds in the south-east of the country. Now, his government has announced that it will seek life sentences for two journalists who reported on the gun smuggling operations of Turkey to Syria. Erdoğan has been gradually arresting or threatening the dwindling number of independent journalists in Turkey and this prosecution may succeed in forcing the remaining reporters into silence or living in exile.
Cumhuriyet newspaper reported that an Istanbul prosecutor has completed an indictment against editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, and the paper’s Ankara representative, Erdem Gul. Last May, Cumhuriyet published images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants. The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels. Turkey (and Erdoğan’s family members) has been accused by various groups and countries like Russia of profiting on oil purchased from ISIS — money that has been used to fund the terrorist organization. The United States has been accused of knowing of these operation and only recently targeting fuel trucks despite the long pipeline that openly operated through our ally, Turkey.
Now, while there remains question about Turkey’s true desire to fight ISIS, there is no question about Erdoğan’s desire to wipe out any independent journalism or political opposition in the country.Like most of the world, we have discussed the sad decline of freedom in Turkey under Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. Recently, we discussed the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. calling people who use birth control “traitors” and saying Muslims discovered America, you are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan. Then there was the prosecution of model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac, 26, for criticizing Erdoğan for 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.
In the most recent case, Erdoğan responded to the investigative article by saying that he would not let Dundar get away with such reporting. Now his government is seeking a life sentence for an act of press freedom. It is good to know that this is one of our closest allies but such crackdowns could easily confuse Turkey with those countries that we have denounced as part of an “evil axis” and extremist.
Source: New York Times