Turkey | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Ratings Change, Trend Arrow:

Turkey’s political rights rating declined from 3 to 4, its civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5, and it received a downward trend arrow due to the security and political repercussions of an attempted coup in July, which led the government to declare a state of emergency and carry out mass arrests and firings of civil servants, academics, journalists, opposition figures, and other perceived enemies.


The Republic of Turkey regularly holds multiparty elections. Although the prime minister traditionally held most executive power, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dominated the government since moving from the premiership to the presidency in 2014. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been the ruling party since 2002. After initially passing some liberalizing reforms, the government has shown decreasing respect for political rights and civil liberties, especially in the past five years. Problem areas include minority rights, free expression, associational rights, corruption, and the rule of law.

Key Developments: 
  • The government survived an attempted military coup in July, in which more than 260 people were killed.
  • In the wake of the coup, the government declared a state of emergency that was later extended through the end of the year. Over 150,000 people—including soldiers, police, judicial officials, civil servants, academics, and schoolteachers—were detained, arrested, or dismissed from their positions in a massive purge of suspected coup plotters and other perceived enemies of the state.
  • In May, Binali Yıldırım, a close ally of President Erdoğan, replaced Ahmet Davutoğlu as prime minister.
  • There were several terrorist attacks linked to the Islamic State (IS) militant group or Kurdish insurgents, including a June attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, an August suicide bombing in Gaziantep, and December bombings outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul.
Executive Summary: 

On July 15, antigovernment forces in the Turkish military moved to overthrow the elected government. Thanks in part to massive civilian demonstrations, the government survived the coup attempt. Over 260 people were killed and roughly 2,000 were wounded in related violence. President Erdoğan claimed that Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, was the mastermind behind the attack on the government. Gülen’s organization, which the government had previously described as a terrorist group, had been officially designated as such a few weeks before the coup attempt.

The government declared a three-month state of emergency, allowing the president to rule by decree and derogate constitutional protections. Over 150,000 soldiers, judges, police, civil servants, academics, and teachers were detained by authorities or dismissed from their jobs for alleged loyalties to Gülen, Kurdish militants, or other antigovernment forces. Gülen-affiliated schools and universities were closed. Scores of media outlets and hundreds of civic organizations—some of which were Kurdish oriented or simply critical of the government—were also closed. The state of emergency was extended through year’s end in October, raising serious concerns about accountability, civil liberties, and the rule of law.

Even prior to the coup, freedom for media and free expression had declined. In March, the government took over Zaman, a leading daily newspaper that was supportive of Gülen. Social media users and others continued to be charged with insulting state leaders. Academics who signed a petition calling for peace talks with Kurdish militants in January were accused by Erdoğan of being “treasonous,” and dozens of the signatories faced criminal investigations and dismissal from their positions over the course of the year.

In May, Binali Yıldırım, a close ally of President Erdoğan, replaced Ahmet Davutoğlu as prime minister and leader of the ruling AKP. Critics suggested that Erdoğan, whose position as president is supposed to be nonpartisan, was the force behind this change. Yıldırım had expressed strong support for Erdoğan’s proposal to amend the constitution and strengthen presidential powers, while Davutoğlu had faced months of criticism in pro-AKP media outlets for insufficient loyalty to Erdoğan.

Turkey suffered terrorist attacks by both IS and Kurdish militants during the year. The government used antiterrorism laws to ban Kurdish organizations and remove mayors who were members of the Kurdish-oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). A constitutional amendment signed in June facilitated the removal of lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity, exposing numerous deputies from the HDP and the secularist opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) to prosecution. In November, 12 HDP deputies, including the party’s two coleaders, were arrested for refusing to give testimony in an investigation of alleged “terrorist propaganda.”

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
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