Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is back in the news again this week to dispel any doubt that he is hellbent on assuming authoritarian powers. The latest subject of his wrath none other than Britain’s consul general Leigh Turner over a “selfie” taken at the espionage trial of two journalists. We previously discussed the outrageous prosecution of Can Dündar, editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and his colleague Erdem Gül – a direct attack free speech, free press, and political dissent. Turner with other diplomats showed up to support civil liberties in Turkey at the start of the trial. That led to another tyrannical outburst from Erdoğan who has added diplomats to the list of undesirables in his new Islamic dominated government.
The journalists published a video showing how Turkey’s state intelligence agency was helping to ferry weapons into Syria by truck in 2014. This led to charges of terrorism and a demand for life imprisonment by the Erdoğan government.
Turner tweeted the picture and wrote “Key point not comparisons or history but Turkey deciding for itself what kind of country it wants to be.” It was a clearly true statement that is shared by many who have watched the erosion of basic civil liberties in Turkey after Erdoğan took power with his coalition of Islamic parties. Erdoğan was outraged by the picture and statement:
“The consul general of a certain country went to the trial of a journalist charged with espionage, to support him. Moreover he gets a picture taken cheek to cheek [with the journalist] and had it published. And he does not stop at that, on social media he says things like ‘Turkey needs to decide what kind of country it will be,’ words that exceed their intended meaning . . . If this person could still go on working here that’s because of our generosity and hospitality. If it were another country they wouldn’t let a diplomat who exhibits this kind of behaviour to stay there a day more.”
The Turkish foreign ministry issued formal expressions of displeasure to foreign governments over social media postings from the trial. In the meantime, the court added to the abusive prosecution by agreeing to hold the trial behind closed doors so the world could not witness the farce that passes for justice in Turkey under Erdoğan.
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. The effort to secure life sentences for two journalists is a demonstration of the sense of impunity that Erdoğan enjoys with the support of Islamic parties and supporters. He also, of course, has the support of the United States government which views him as a key ally as he ravages the rights of political dissidents and journalists.