Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has continued his assault on basic freedoms in his country with an assault this month on the decision of the Constitutional Court. The Court had the temerity to disagree with Erdoğan and rule that the imprisonment of two prominent journalists for a report on alleged illegal arms transfers to Syria was a violation of their rights. Erdoğan has announced that he will simply ignore the ruling of the court because he disagrees with it. Erdoğan has become increasingly bold in his crackdown on opponents and civil liberties — relying on his base of Islamic organizations.
We have previously discussed the rapid decline of civil liberties in Turkey after the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. This includes 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 Erdogan for quoting a few lines from a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz. Erdogan’s totalitarian measures have earned him the nickname “Buyuk Usta” (the Big Master). The fact is that censorship and repressions is that it tends to become increasing absurd as leaders try to punish those who would insult them or question their leadership. For example, the government recently investigated physician Dr. Bilgin Çiftçi for allegedly insulting Erdoğan after sharing a meme comparing Erdoğan’s facial expressions to the Gollum character in the “The Lord of the Rings” movies.
In this case, as we previously discussed, Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara representative Erdem Gül were charged for publishing 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 a Court has stood its ground in defense of the lingering notion of the rule of law in Turkey. Erdoğan responded in his signature authoritarian style: “The Constitutional Court may have reached such a verdict. I would only remain silent. I am not in a position to accept it. I do not obey it nor do I respect it.” There you have it. After breaking down the secular tradition of the Turkish government and introducing Islamic values into the government, Erdoğan is now saying that he will simply disregard judicial opinions that he disagrees with. It is even more chilling that the ruling was meant to correct the earlier of abuse of Erdoğan’s government in charging journalists with espionage and aiding a terrorist organization for merely doing their jobs.
Erdoğan left no doubt that he views the law and government in strictly personal and autocratic terms: “The media cannot have unlimited freedom. These reports are an attack on the current president of this country. This has nothing to do with freedom of expression at all. This is an espionage case.” The sheer stupidity of such a statement leads one to assume that he does not really mean it. However, Erdoğan’s twisted religious-based view of government allows him to disregard notions of separation of powers or the rule of law when they oppose his action or those of his government.
Notably, Dündar and Gül are still facing possible life sentences in a trial, which is due to start on March 25th. The government continues to maintain that by simply investigating and reporting on a national issue, the men are guilty of “obtaining and revealing secret information pertaining to the security of the state for espionage purposes,” “seeking to overthrow the Turkish government” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization.”
Turkey remains one of our most important allies in fighting “extremism” in the region, which it eviscerates basic human rights and civil liberties.