from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Human Rights in Turkey: the Decline Continues

January 10, 2012

Blog Post

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Human Rights

Politics and Government


In the past year, Turkey has often been held up as a democratic model for Arab countries that have thrown off long-serving dictators. The problem is that with each passing month Turkey is a less democratic country itself.

First there is the diminishing freedom of the press. As The Economist has said, Turkey “is a dangerous place to be a journalist.” In the “Reporters Without Borders” index, Turkey ranks 138 out of 178 countries, just a whisker above Russia.

Then this week, the Turkish government—or is it now more accurate to say the Erdogan regime?—has moved to prosecute the leader of the only powerful opposition party.

The facts are that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, visited two of the party’s elected members of parliament in prison. They are Mustafa Balbay, a journalist, and Mehmet Haberal, a surgeon and former university rector, and each has now been imprisoned for over one thousand days. Mr. Kilicdaroglu called their imprisonment unjust. So, prosecutors are seeking to try him for the crimes of “seeking to influence a fair trial” and “insulting a public official.”

Freedom in Turkey is under threat, and the widely admired Mr. Erdogan seems intent on copying not only Ottoman foreign policy but Ottoman respect for human rights. Mr. Erdogan is widely quoted as having said "Democracy is a train where you can get off once you reach the destination." In the end only the people of Turkey can prevent him from “getting off” and taking Turkey with him. But we must at the very least be honest about what is happening, and treat Turkey not as a full or an aspiring democracy but as a nation whose government is seeking to curtail the freedoms its people have recently enjoyed. That is a poor model for Arab nations seeking to leave such regimes behind them.