Our close ally in Turkey this week is continuing his comprehensive attack on free speech and free exercise. A Dutch journalist, Ebru Umar, a well-known atheist and feminist journalist, is the latest victim of the crackdown by Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan was recently given a boost to his scorched earth campaign by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to first apologize to him for a comedian making fun of him in Germany but also approved a prosecution of the comedian . As Merkel abandoned any semblance of free speech in Germany to appease Erdoğan, the authoritarian leader set out to punish Western journalists in his own country who dared to criticize him. Umar recently wrote a piece critical of Erdoğan for the Dutch daily Metro, extracts of which she then tweeted. Her last tweet chillingly said “Police at the door. No joke.”
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.
Umar is of Turkish descent and has been outspoken in her criticism of Islam and her opinions on feminism. She was reported to police after one of her tweets criticizing Erdoğan was given to the police. The arrest follows a controversy in the Netherlands with the disclosure of a letter from the Turkish government to Turkish groups and individual to forward emails and social media posts which insult Erdoğan or Turkey.
Indeed, Umar was commenting on the controversy before her arrest. Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey punishable by up to four years in jail. Erdoğan’s government has open more than 1,800 cases against people for insulting him.
In the meantime, the United States continues to support Erdoğan as he arrests critics, including journalists, in an utter denial of free speech in Turkey — and with the help of people like Merkel, around the world.