July 15 Coup Attempt Politcs Turkey

The regime’s growing assaults on journalists and intellectuals in Turkey

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The opendemocracy.net published an article on the last regime’s growing assaults on journalists and academics in Turkey. 

On February 7, 2017, Turkey’s ruling party AKP (Justice and Development Party) expelled 330 academics under the guise of the “fight against terrorism” by issuing a new decree, which has the force of law (KHK) under the ongoing nationwide state of emergency. This was the last step in AKP’s assault on Turkey’s academia since the failed military coup in July 2016. In the last seven months, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party AKP have issued five KHK which expelled 4811 academics from their positions in 112 universities.

REMARKABLY, THIS PURGE IS 20 TIMES LARGER THAN THE NUMBER OF ACADEMICS…

Remarkably, this purge is 20 times larger than the number of academics expelled in the 1960, 1971 and 1980 military coups (T24, 10 February 2017). Furthermore, KHKs have inflicted serious damage on the Faculty of Political Science (Mulkiye) and Communication in Ankara University – the voices of critical thinking in modern Turkish history. Currently, 38 undergraduate courses, 5 graduate courses, and 50 dissertations cannot be attained in the former, while 40 undergraduate courses, 29 graduate courses, and 99 dissertations cannot be completed in the latter (Cumhuriyet, 8-9 February 2017). While recent government actions considerably threaten academic freedom in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party AKP have long been removing democratic rights from Turkey’s political and public life. Over the last decade, Turkey’s regime under AKP leadership has devoted itself to competitive authoritarianism.

In their seminal work, S. Levitsky and L. Way describe competitive authoritarianism as “civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-à-vis their opponents. In competitive authoritarianism, Levitsky and Way continue, incumbents’ manipulation of the state  debilitates at least one of the fundamental attributes of democracy – namely, free elections, civil liberties, and a level playing field. Regime assaults on civil liberties considerably disable opposition politicians, journalists and intellectuals from mounting a serious challenge. The incumbent’s repression may involve harassment and the arrest of dissenting voices as well as the use of legal means, including tax charges and defamation suits.

In this context, we see that the Turkish authorities sought to divert the regime into competitive authoritarianism long before the military coup attempt on July 2016. Erdogan and his Party systematically curbed civil liberties, distorted the political playing field, and so undermined the fairness of elections, since they won almost 50 percent of the national vote in the 2007 parliamentary elections. Furthermore, the incumbent regime “legitimized” its measures to restrain democratic rights and diminish the rule of law in the aftermath of the failed military coup in part of its fight with the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen’s movement Hizmet, accused of instigating the attempted coup.

Over the last decade, Turkey’s record under AKP reveals many severe violations of civil liberties. Already in 2008, the regime launched a campaign to penalize its critics after media outlets owned by Aydin Dogan covered news that indicated the involvement of AKP loyalists in the corruption case Deniz Feneri (Light House). The same year, Dogan’s 11 television channels were closed down. Since then, the company had to lay off many of its popular writers, known to be ardent critics of the regime, due to ongoing legal investigations brought by the government, which mostly pertained to the use of licences and tax codes. At the same time, the Ergenekon trial which continued for nearly six years, sought to uproot Turkey’s deep state which was allegedly composed of hardliner Kemalists positioned in the state with considerable influence over political matters, expanded to include journalists, intellectuals, and opposition politicians on the grounds of coup plotting. Similarly, AKP governments have arrested hundreds of Peace and Democracy Party officials and journalists under anti-terrorism laws in Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trials since 2012. As AKP attacked opposition journalists and media outlets – by accusing them of being “terrorists,” “traitors,” and “enablers of terrorism” and for defamation, which is a criminal offense in Turkey – the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Turkey for putting the biggest number of journalists behind bars anywhere in the world both in 2012 and 2013.

In May 2013, alienation of large segments in Turkey’s society from AKP’s growing authoritarian tendencies however manifested itself in Gezi Park protests. While the protest was started by a few people calling attention to the planned demolition of one of the “last public green spaces” in Istanbul, excessive use of force by police led thousands to march in streets across the country to show solidarity with earlier protesters. In the next few weeks of protests, many were injured while several individuals died. Police detained thousands of protesters. Of these detentions, many were included for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. Journalists reporting from demonstrations encountered police brutality through “insults, obstructions, the destruction of footage, and even physical violence.” Those who circulated information on social media on the issues such as the location of security forces, the sources of legal and medical assistance were also threatened with prosecution by the authorities. [1]

Along the same line, regime authorities sought to intimidate members of the core platform, Taksim Solidarity in Gezi Park protests through charges of “forming a criminal organization” under “anti-terrorism laws” in July. It accused various legal organizations – including Turkish Medical Association, the Human Rights Association of Turkey, the Chamber of Architects and Engineers – of encouraging people to “commit crimes … and rise up against the government.” Similarly, Erdogan called out Koc Holding for “cooperating with terrorists” after its Divan Hotel opened the doors to demonstrators fleeing police brutality. In the ensuing days, the company was hit with full-blown tax investigations.

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