Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan basically called President Barack Obama a liar this week after Obama said that he spoke to Erdogan about his concerns with the crackdown on journalists in Turkey. Erdogan said it never happened and accused Obama of essentially speaking behind his back. As we discussed last week, Erdogan has moved beyond his arresting of critics in Turkey to seeking the prosecution or censorship of any critics abroad. His comments further reflect his authoritarian definition of free speech as speech that by definition excludes any criticism of him.
We have seen the erosion of liberties in Turkey after the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. Just last month, 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 Erdogan 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.
Obama was, if anything too restrained, in telling the media last Friday that he was troubled by curbs on the press in Turkey and said he had urged Erdogan not to repress democratic debate in his country. Erdogan said that the conversation never happened and added “I was saddened to hear that statement made behind my back. During my talk with Obama, those issues did not come up.”
What comes out of the statement is exactly how paranoid Erdogan has become where he now does not even spare the President of the United States from his attacks for criticizing his increasingly tyrannical rule. What is particularly chilling was his Erdogan’s view of free speech: “You cannot consider insults and threats press freedom or criticism.” It is an insight into the moronic understanding of free speech and free press by Erdogan that it excludes “insults” which he means criticism of him or his policies. There is a raging debate whether Erdogan is remarkably thick or whether he knows that this is nonsense and simply wants dictatorial powers. Either way he is a danger to civil liberties in Turkey and increasingly abroad.
Notably, he has added paranoia to his authoritarian aspirations. His government now routinely refers to a “mastermind” in the West that is undermining him with all this talk of civil liberties and abused. He warned that critics seek to “divide, shatter and if they could, swallow up Turkey. This is what I mean by mastermind. A mastermind is playing games over Turkey.”