Press freedom in Turkey continued to downslide this week with the decision of an Istanbul court to ban Turkish newspaper, Özgür Gündem, from publication for allegedly spreading “terrorist propaganda.” The paper’s Istanbul offices were raided on March 24 and authorities subsequently seized the Sunday edition of the paper and barred the newspaper from publication for one month.
Freedom House welcomes the release of four Turkish journalists on March 12, but cautions that Turkey must do more to address ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression. Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener, Şait Çakır and Coşkun Musluk spent over a year in prison for their alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the Turkish government – known as “Ergenekon.”
Since its foundation in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has endured three military coups against democratically elected governments, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth military intervention—in the form of an ultimatum—brought down a coalition government led by the Islamist Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) in 1997. Since 2002, however, the Adelet ve Kalkına Partisi (Justice and Development Party, or AKP) has consolidated power, offering a platform of political conservatism with an Islamic bent and neoliberal economic development that has garnered unprecedented popular support.
Freedom House is appalled by the arrests of 20 Turkish journalists during police raids December 20, and calls for their immediate release. Among those arrested were journalist Sevinç Tuncelli from the pro-Kurdish DiHA, Çağdaş Ulus from Vatan and Mustafa Özer from Agence France Presse.
A majority of Americans see democracy in the U.S. as weak and getting weaker, according to a national survey released by The Democracy Project, a joint initiative of Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
The victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the June 2018 elections has cemented the long-term trend of democratic decline and authoritarian consolidation in Turkey. This consolidation has coincided with, and contributed to, a sharp divergence from Turkey’s traditional strategic alignment with the United States. This brief provides an overview of recent developments and looks at how U.S. foreign policy should respond to the “New Turkey.”
Turkey’s government is improperly using its leverage over media to limit public debate about government actions and punish journalists and media owners who dispute government claims, deepening the country’s political and social polarization.
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