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Contentions

Thought Crime in Turkey and a Challenge to Prime Minister Erdogan

Turks have long complained that their prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is intolerant of criticism. Almost 70 Turkish journalists languish in prison; Turkey now ranks near the bottom of the world in media freedom, hovering right around Russia and below even Venezuela whose leader’s tactic of confiscating opposition media Erdogan now copies.

Last week, freedom in Turkey took another hit when Turkish police staged a raid on both a newspaper office and publisher to confiscate and destroy a book manuscript which was reputed both to be critical of Prime Minister Erdogan’s government and provide evidence that the Turkish police force had been infiltrated by Islamist cult leader Fethullah Gulen. The raid was illegal under Turkish law, but Erdogan sees himself as above the law. Turks have no recourse: With the Islamist takeover of Turkey’s courts, they have nowhere to turn. A bold Turkish columnist writes:

While democracy is advancing in Turkey, 68 journalists – at least for now – are imprisoned with hundreds more being prosecuted due to their journalistic activities. This country, which wishes to join the European Union one day in the future, ranks 138th in the Reporters Sans Frontiers index of countries in terms of free media.

While democracy is advancing in Turkey, alongside these journalists, hundreds of people from academia, civil society and the business world have been kept in prisons for years without any conviction. All are counted as members of a never officially recognized terror organization called Ergenekon and have already lost for their hopes of a fair prosecution. The court, with the unique approach of “all persons are guilty under proven innocent,” does not hesitate to reject appeals for their releases on the conditions of trial without arrest.

Meanwhile, Cengiz Candar, a Turkish columnist firmly in Erdogan’s pocket, has taken umbrage at my Contentions post from earlier this month. Reflecting the Turkish mindset which has transformed Turkey from a democracy to a dictatorship, Candar suggested that my criticism was evidence that I am a coup plotter, and that I belong in prison. Well, Mr. Candar, we have never met and so I do not know you. But I stand by my convictions. If I am invited to a conference in Turkey, I am more than happy to speak publicly about Turkish-American relations, or about the ruling party’s evisceration of Turkey’s democracy. I do not fear you or your prime minister’s fevered imagination, and dare you to arrest me for my analysis. In December, I called Iraqi Kurdish dictator Masud Barzani’s bluff to arrest me and, despite a Kurdish intelligence officer sitting in the front row, found out that Barzani was all bluster, no bite. It is time to stand up to Erdogan’s bullying and if Erdogan wants to create an international incident by arresting a foreign analyst, let’s see him do it.



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