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Turkey’s Democratic Breakdown and Press Freedom

Bora Erdem*

Society of Professional Journalists, USA

*Corresponding Author:
Bora Erdem
Society of Professional Journalists, USA
Tel: +1- 352 205 9435

Received Date: May 21, 2018; Accepted Date: May 24, 2018; Published Date: June 01, 2018

Citation: Erdem B. Turkey’s Democratic Breakdown and Press Freedom. Global Media Journal 2018, 16:30.

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This essay aims to explore the progress and setbacks regarding press freedom in Turkey in line with Ankara’s decade-long efforts for EU accession, and EU standards in particular during Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration over the past decade. Its central theme is to analyze the major components of media system and how press freedom faced obstruction and challenges in Turkey’s everevolving and changing political domain beset by periodic crises and direct and indirect interference from non-governmental actors, bureaucratic power sources and outside elements. The scope of the study spans several decades, but mostly focuses on the past few years. It examines the cases of journalists who faced prison sentences and different forms of legal investigations in Turkey over their journalistic works and how they brought their cases to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) when all options for legal remedy at domestic legal channels have been rendered near impossible. Press freedom in Turkey according to European standards, therefore, happens to be the main theme of the study to offer a comparative analysis regarding entrenched problems in Turkey’s legal system and how the ECtHR involved in cases regarding media freedom. It delves into details of specific cases that were taken by the Strasbourg-based court, which has recently been overwhelmed by tens of thousands of applications from Turkey in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016. Taken in a broader historical perspective and context, the study aims to provide a background to the problems that have dogged Turkey in terms of media freedom from the EU prism. Given that more than 100 journalists languish in Turkey’s prisons and around 160 media outlets have been shut down in the post-coup crackdown, the issue appears to be currently relevant to today’s politics.According to New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey is the top jailer of journalists in the world. As a methodological framework, the essay will provide a narrative, descriptive history of the media and government relations. It will also offer content analysis and historical assessment to make a compelling case.


Turkey; Press freedom; EU; Democratic breakdown

Introduction: Press Freedom in EU

Haunted by bitter memories1 and the profound impact of the fascism and totalitarianism in 1930s across many of the European countries, European policy makers moved to consolidate the social forces of democracy and freedom of expression in the political landscape of Western Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the long path to the formation of the today’s European Union, ‘press freedom’ emerged as the central pillar of democratic West and European Convention of Human Rights was the foundational text that defined freedom of expression and thought, and press freedom, accordingly. The attempt aimed to provide an opportunity for plurality, diversity and alternative voices in public sphere and political domain, with no limitation on the right of any citizen or an outlet to express any form of thought in any fashion. In a broad reflection of liberal understanding of democratic systems, press freedom conceived to be the main touchstone of a democratic society in post-WWII Western Europe. With the evolution of the common European economic market into European Coal and Steel Community, then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1950s, the Western conception of the press freedom became the standard bearer and the defining element of liberties regulating media business and publications across the Free World during the Cold War [1].

Turkey also looked at EU as the main source of inspiration and guidance before adoption of the principles defining, both on legal and literal terms, the press freedom. Ankara became a founder of Council of Europe in 1949, and a signing part to the European Convention on Human Rights and its relevant articles on free press. During its waves of expansion over the past half century through inclusion of new member countries to the club, EU set press freedom as one of the main criteria to measure the readiness of a new member to fit the conditions existent within the union. During its progress reports to evaluate the democratic outlook of a candidate country, rapporteurs assigned by Brussels for every candidate meticulously and laboriously work to come up with a detailed assessment to judge how much the given country improves the state of media freedom. The mechanism allows the EU to see whether a candidate country worked enough to secure liberties defined by Copenhagen Criteria regarding freedom of expression and press.

According to cardinal principle prevalent among the foundational philosophy of EU, media freedom is regarded as the defining element of a democracy and rule of law in a country where political authorities cannot limit people’s right to access to information and their right to express themselves without any restriction. Article 10 of the Convention sets media freedom as follows:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions and restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder and crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation and rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.2

In this regard, EU comes up with mechanisms to ensure media freedom to keep a check on any unwitting drift toward authoritarianism that would stifle dissent and critical voices. The ECtHR is one of the institutions, in this respect, and has jurisdiction and authority to punish signing states for violation of the media freedom. In line with its foreign policy orientation, diplomatic and military realignment with the West in the onset of the Cold War in the face of Soviet threats, Turkey became3 a party to the European institutions and treaties that regulate the workings and independence of the press. However, Turkey has had a dismal record, a disheartening statistics that expose almost an unbridgeable gap between its commitment to the principle of media freedom and human rights, and its failure to live up to its promises in practice [2]. Between 1959 and 2014, the ECtHR ruled against Turkey 3,095 times for violation of human rights, elevating the country to the top spot as worst violator.4 Just equally important, out of 591 rulings, 248 ones took place against Turkey in cases about media freedom within the same time period. Only in 2014, out of 47 decisions about freedom of expression violations, 24 ones were taken in relation to Turkey. The history of the ECtHR rulings unmistakably points to a problematic pattern for Turkey where democracy and media freedom repeatedly suffer setbacks.

In legal terms, Turkey has no luxury of ignoring the ECtHR rulings, whatever the diplomatic and political relations between Ankara and Brussels might be at a particular moment. In a novel and groundbreaking reform move, the Turkish government amended the 90th article of 1980 constitution in 2004 to pave the way for adjusting its domestic laws in compliance with EU criteria [3]. With the change, the ECtHR rulings, which oversee whether rights are violated or not during domestic legal process, have become binding and final for Turkey’s legal system. Not surprisingly, the 2004 amendment heralded a new chapter in Turkey’s relations with EU. It also opened the way for journalists who believed that their rights were violated and they failed to get justice within the realm of domestic legal channels to apply to ECtHR to hear their cases.

The 2000s saw a resurgence, or explosion, in personal applications to the Strasbourg-based court. The decade revealed structural contradictions as well. While Turkey embarked5 on an ambitious reform period in pursuit of its decades-old aspirations for EU accession, openings and novel reforms did not correspond to a tangible progress in individual rights and media freedom.

A Brief History of Press in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic

A brief look at the history of press in late Ottoman Empire exposes long-standing challenges that define a strained relationship between media and political authorities. The press was regarded by the intellectuals of the day as a political agent to push for social change and political reform during the 19th century. Since 1860s, constitutionalists6 and dissidents of the Palace published critical newspapers abroad to challenge the absolute power of Sultan, defending the adoption of a new constitution and Parliament to mitigate the disastrous effects of the social forces of nationalism and separatism among ethnic minorities. The Empire’s endurance during the long 19th century, and especially in its second part, was tested by the trial of triumphant ideology of nationalism, which swept the entire European political landscape after the French Revolution. The Sublime Porte faced demands by ethnic minorities on self-determination and political autonomy in the Balkans. Ottoman intellectuals viewed constitutional reform as a potential solution to moderate demands of elites of the Christian citizens, and systematically used press to advance their cause in political domain. This triggered a bitter contest between the Palace and intellectuals, with ominous ramifications for the press freedom [4]. Namik Kemal7 and his friends published the Hurriyet daily (which has no relation to today’s Hurriyet newspaper) in Paris in 1868, defending constitutional reforms. It followed by other critics of the Sultan in other European countries. Either due to pressure from Istanbul or financial hardships, dissidents was forced to shut down their outlets. The diplomatic court of the Sultan also pressured countries, France or Switzerland, to shut down critical newspapers run by Young Ottomans, threatening to shun them out of lucrative tenders to modernize certain sectors of the Ottoman economy. Reminiscent of Ankara’s showdown with EU countries over allowing Kurdish media outlets in 2000s, it unleashed a series of diplomatic rows between the empire and European countries over Istanbul’s pursuit of its dissident citizens abroad. Today, Ankara seeks to use Interpol to crack down on its journalists abroad, revealing a similar pattern that deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Turkish state [5].

Though constitutionalists enjoyed a brief moment of success when young Sultan Abdulhamid II endorsed the proposal for a new constitution and steered the establishment of Constitutional Assembly in 1876 after the overthrow of Sultan Abdulaziz by a bureaucratic coup, the triumph of the young reformist generation proved to be short-lived. The outbreak of the Ottoman-Russian War enabled Sultan to dismantle nascent Parliament, reversing the gains of the Young Ottomans, postponing their dreams for another three decades. The sultan’s 33-year-long reign was characterized as “repression (istibdat) regime” where media, all forms of organized dissent and political opposition were systematically suppressed. The era was associated with tyranny, according to the widely-shared conviction by most of the studies [6].

Until a violent takeover of political power by Young Turks in 1913, the press world endured a great deal of freedom unseen in a century when the first media outlets appeared in the Ottoman Empire. Diversity, pluralism and freewheeling ideas dominated media before another era of repression and censorship. A brief and relative atmosphere of freedom after the downfall of Sultan Abdulhamid II, however, did not long last. The dictatorship of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) between 1913 and 1918 constituted a new low-water mark for press freedom, as the country plunged into a series of devastating wars that eventually brought the demise of the empire after the World War One. What followed after was a mixed story. During the War of Independence, the press was again colorful and diverse.

After 1925 when a Kurdish rebellion shook the young republic to its roots, political authorities announced martial law across the country, and began to impose tremendous pressure on media.8 The 1931 law9 about printing and press sealed the authoritarian control of media, with no critical voice that would challenge the reforms by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was allowed. The strict control of the press lasted until multi-party political life. To become part of the Western world, President Ismet Inonu allowed the establishment of another political party and gave his approval for multi-party elections in 1946 [7]. It also had an impact on media.

The ideological split between the right and left in Cold War’s Turkey first roared its ugly face in 1945 when printing machines of Tan, a left-leaning of newspaper, were looted and smashed by an angry nationalist mob.10 The 1950 elections marked a political watershed in history of modern Turkey, with historical election defeat of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Ataturk. People vented their frustration at ballot box and brought Democrat Party (DP) to power. Apart from anti-communist hysteria and crackdown on leftist outlets, Turkey’s media saw a brief period of diverse media outlets. Unfortunately, DP, which ruled Turkey until its removal from power by a military coup in 1960, began to exert widening pressure on the press in the final days of its rule. Especially in 1959 and 1960, dozens of opposition media outlets faced outright police raids. Shortly before the coup, it even formed “Tahkikat Komisyonu” (Investigation Commission) to prosecute opposition lawmakers and journalists. The creation of commission with only DP members expectedly produced a political storm that eventually brought down the government. The DP, which was elevated to power by people after 27-year CHP rule, exploited and abused its powers, undermining an essential tenet of democracy -- media freedom. The next 30 years of press saw similar ups and downs. During 1970s, the country was bitterly divided over the lines of political affiliation with the right and left, with political violence wreaking havoc and tearing apart the social fabric. More than 5,000 people were killed between 1975 and 1980. The media epitomized the ideological split between the right and left. The 1980 military coup swept political and social domain, crushing critical and leftist media outlets. With the takeover of the government, the military-led junta sought de-politicization of the college youth by forcing press to be less occupied with hardcore political issues [8].

The 1990s saw expansion of private media ownership. The year of 1990 also marked the breakdown of state monopoly over television broadcasting. The flourishing of TV channels enabled diversity and plurality in media. Abundance of new channels and emergence of new newspapers did not correspondingly point to a new dawn in terms of freedom of expression [9]. Themes regarded within realm of national security and political issues of secularism were still viewed as taboo and off-limit for discussion amid newfound enthusiasm in new media age.

EU Process and Media Freedom

Given the turbulent relationship between decision makers and media owners, and constant limitations on performing media freedom has been one of the enduring sources of friction between EU and Turkey. With Turkey being declared as a candidate country in 1999, Ankara has found itself tasked with a series of reforms to adjust its domestic legal structure in every field, criminal justice system, human rights, minority rights, business, and media freedom, in line with EU standards.

The AKP’s rise to power in 2002 heralded a new era in Turkey’s modern political history. The AKP’s Islamic roots became source of concern for potential clash with democracy and secularist roots of the political system. But the party became a loyal and ardent supporter of EU process, and even enacted groundbreaking reforms not seen in modern memory. It did more than any other party to enrich cultural rights of Kurds, expand liberties and liberalize Turkey’s economy. The pace of reforms baffled many observers and even placed the prospect of Turkey’s accession to the EU within the realm of possibility [10]. According to Meltem Muftuler Bac, the EU became one of the main drivers of democratization in Turkey in the early 2000s.11 For the AKP, which aroused genuine fears in secular segments of society, a hostile bureaucracy and a skeptical military, the EU path is the most secure way of consolidating its power in the face of challenges from old guards of Turkey’s political system.

Months before Islamist AKP’s elevation to the power in 2002, a previous coalition government indeed laid the groundwork for adjusting Turkey’s institutions, legal framework and norms to be consistent and compliant with EU norms and mechanisms. Whatever the AKP did between 2002 and 2005, it built on the reform package enacted in 2002 summer. The coalition government laid a proposal for elimination of death penalty in that summer, and the AKP government signed it into law in 2004 [11], finally abolishing death penalty that has not been carried out since 1983. It approved the right to print and broadcasting in languages other than Turkish in 2004, paving the way for Kurdish media outlets to be active and working without legal restrictions.

Though billed as a period of reforms, the early AKP era was of course was not without challenges or flaws as Turkey’s notorious counter-terrorism law, especially the Article 301 of Criminal Penal Code, remained to be legal source of prosecutors to investigate journalists, writers and artists for their critical pieces and opinions. The vague law gives a great latitude to prosecutors to regard any critical expression of thought questioning the modern Turkish nation-state, the nationalist ethos of the state and its practices as criminal conduct on charges of “denigrating Turkish nation or insulting Turkishness.” For instance, Orhan Pamuk’s display of views that are close to the Armenian position on the issue of ‘Armenian Genocide’ sparked a legal investigation against him. The ever-comprehensive nature of “national security” themes encompass many layers of social conduct and public dialogue either in academia or media sphere. Turkey’s legal authorities mostly subscribed to the “national security first” approach and used relevant articles in criminal penal code or counter-terrorism law as justification for prosecution of writers. In this respect, Hrant Dink, Elif Safak, Ahmet Altan, Orhan Pamuk and a dozen of other writers faced criminal investigations for questioning major components of the nation-state or its oppressive practices against Kurds, Alevis, left and minority groups [12].

This period saw a surge in applications from Turkey to the Strasbourg-based court. Turkey and Russia occupied the top of the list of countries, which were sentenced to pay compensation and fines to thousands of applicants over violation of their rights. The ECtHR ruled against Turkey’s authorities in a number of cases concerning freedom of expression. In 2005, Erbil Tusalp, a columnist with the left-leaning Birgun daily, wrote a critical piece against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over allegations of corruption. He charged Erdogan and his government with exploiting public resources and employ the term of “stability” to cloak increasing cases of corruption from public view. His accusations of using religion for political goals elicited a harsh reaction from the prime minister who filed a lawsuit against the journalist and sought compensation. A local court ruled against the Birgun columnist. The decision was approved by the Supreme Court in next step. Both Tusalp and Birgun were sentenced to pay fines against the prime minister. In another piece same year, the same journalist questioned the mental health of Erdogan. That column also triggered another lawsuit and conviction in Turkey’s courts. The journalist brought the two cases to the ECtHR, which then ruled against Erdogan and his government. The court said freedom of expression was applied in broadest sense against public figures.12 The government insisted that the journalist went beyond the acceptable bounds of free speech and insulted personal rights and integrity of the prime minister. The case was of crucial importance for the reason that it revealed the approach of then-Prime Minister Erdogan and the government toward media in a long series of showdowns that finally laid the ground for full-scale political mastery of Turkey’s media landscape [13].

In another case concerning free expression, constitutional expert Mustafa Erdogan wrote an article in 2001, criticizing a ruling by Constitutional Court to shut down Fazilet (Felicity) Party. He faced a lawsuit by the members of Turkey’s top court. In his article, Professor Erdogan questioned the decision from legal perspective and offered a sober analysis of the structural flaws embedded in Turkey’s criminal justice system. The problem in shutdown of a political party, he construed, was not shortcomings of the legal framework regulating political parties and affairs, but rather the way the members of the court interpreted existing laws and constitution from a very narrow angle with an authoritarian mindset.13 It was not Parliament that failed to enact legislation and amend the constitution, the professor noted. The main obstacle was the Constitutional Court, which had no problem with shredding liberties, itself, he wrote. In the same article, he questioned the qualification of the members and criticized them for lacking desire to improve themselves in the legal profession. His piece sparked a furious reaction from top court members who filed lawsuits against the professor. Turkey’s courts ruled against Professor Erdogan who eventually brought the issue to the EctHR [14]. The Strasbourg-based court ruled in favor of the professor on the ground that he used his right to free expression.

Turkey’s Democratic Breakdown

Turkey’s pivot away from Western-style democracy has taken place since the early 2010s and taken a full-fledged form since the botched coup in 2016. The political crackdown on Kurdish activists and pro-Kurdish political party expanded to include Kurdish journalists in 2011 and 2012.14 Several dozens of journalists were placed behind bars on the grounds of disseminating terrorist propaganda and working on behalf of a terrorist organization to advance its cause through use of media tools.

The Gezi Protests in summer 2013 and the outbreak of a politically explosive corruption scandal that tainted then-Prime Minister Erdogan in late 2013 have proved to be a watershed moment to pinpoint the exact timeline for Turkey’s democratic breakdown. It also signified the ever-growing strangling of media, with mainstream media outlets finding themselves at the mercy of political whims of the authorities, mostly Erdogan. The evertightening grip over media was unmistakably evident during Gezi Protests when majority of media outlets self-consciously did not air the eruption of public discontent and became a source enduring mockery.

The social upheaval over environmental issues metastasized into display of mass anger in streets where people of all social conviction and political affiliation, in mostly secular sectors of society, registered their dissent with the government’s recent mega projects that set to transform the urban landscape of Istanbul. A leaked audio tape featured Erdogan intervening to change a subtitle on a TV screen during Gezi Protests while he was on a diplomatic visit to Morocco. The tape encapsulated the scope of his micromanagement and overreach, revealing the depth of his engagement with even small editorial matters [15]. Erdogan systematically pressured media owners to fire certain columnists and journalists he deemed to be critical of him over the past decade. The political interference in media took several forms. One was to encourage pliant businessmen to purchase mainstream media outlets, offering lucrative loans from public banks.15 The second was direct political pressure on media bosses. Media tycoons and barons are loath to be cut off the hook in public tenders, therefore they sought the good grace of politicians, mostly Erdogan in the Turkish case.

When a massive graft scandal broke out on Dec. 17, in 2013, Prime Minister Erdogan responded with a sweeping purge in judiciary and police, inflicting a debilitating damage on the rule of law and judicial independence. Media, too, did not go unscathed as authorities began to choke off critical media outlets through a series of new laws curbing free expression and unrestrained access to information on internet. The year of 2014, therefore, began to mark16 a new, dark period for Turkey’s media. In late 2015, authorities seized Ipek Medya outlets while in March 2016 the largest newspaper in Turkey, Zaman daily, was taken over in an outright seizure with police crackdown on the newspaper headquarters.17

The breakdown of democracy in Turkey is part of a larger trend that has taken hold around the world. A global surge in authoritarianism to the detriment of liberal democracy has had a rippling impact even in democratic EU bloc, as Poland and Hungary have appeared to be in thrall of populist nationalism. Those two countries, according to some experts, are no longer viewed as democratic.18 The loath for Western-style liberal democracy is no longer held by fringe elements on both sides of the political aisle, but has become a mainstream conviction shared by major parties of the center-right and center-left [16].

According to political scientist Murat Somer, Turkey also suffers from this global trend, which seriously threatens to tear apart the ascendancy of liberal democracy as a political system.19 In addition to economic crisis, the migration problem has revived old issues of identity politics while culture wars now define results of elections and shape next governments across Europe.20

As a recent development, a new generation of rulers who owed their ascension to power to democratic means but later began to subvert democracy have emerged across the globe. “One of the most critical challenges to the media comes from a new generation of popularly elected autocrats -- call them “democratators”,” Joel Simon wrote in his new book, “The New Censorship: Inside The Global Battle for Media Freedom.”21

“Deprived of ideological basis for state control of information since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the democratators have adapted to the new global reality,” he noted, elaborating on how new generation of autocrats well accommodated themselves to the new age through use of democratic channels and media. But this new creed of politicians cannot be easily labeled as dictators. They employ different set of methods at their disposal, and they attentively differentiate themselves from the use of brute force deployed by the dictators of the past.

“Dictators rule by force. Democratators rule by manipulation. Dictators impose their will. Democratators govern with the support of the majority. Dictators do not claim to be democrats -- at least credibly. Democratators always do. Dictators control information. Democratators manage it,”22 Silmon wrote, identifying the points of difference between dictators and what he called today’s democratators [17].

According to this explanatory framework, Silmon places President Erdogan in this category and goes, at great length, to describe how the Turkish strongman formed his autocratic rule through the mastery of media, managed control of democracy and suppressing opposition through the legitimate tools of existing political system without outright establishing a dictatorial rule. He scrupulously crafted his strategies so as not to alienate tourists or international community when they engage with Turkey. He cloaked his repressive regime from public view or outright observation through managed media. But this was before the 2016 coup. In the aftermath, the repression was and is out there in plain sight.

The recent literature of political and social sciences are awash with studies after a resurgence of scholarly interest in the resurrection of authoritarianism at global scale. In How Democracies Die, two Harvard scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt cite political authorities’ threatening of civil society and media as an indication of an authoritarian turn in a country.23 The gist of their argument is that “democracies die in three stages: the election of an authoritarian leader, the concentration and abuse of governmental power and finally, the complete repression of opposition and citizens.” The two scholars also list Turkey as an example of a democratic breakdown.

Against this backdrop, it is safe to assume that how authorities treat media emerges as one of the crucial indicators of a democratic outlook of a given country. This angle is particularly pertinent after “truth” and “post-truth age” have become the main elements of contemporary intellectual debate about media. The Economist’s depiction of post-truth politics24 sits well with these debates since Donald J. Trump’s unrelenting campaign against mainstream media and his portrayal of media reports as “fake news” [18]. The dawn of the post-truth age is full of examples with political leaders waging vendetta against media institutions around the world.

Conclusion: Turkey’s Media after 2016 Coup

Throughout the 2000s, the story of media in Turkey was once promising and hopeful given Ankara’s decades-long aspirations to become a full-fledged member of the world’s most elite political club -- the EU. It would have been culmination of the country’s century-long foreign policy orientation set by the founding father, Ataturk, after steady and consistent drive toward integration with the Western civilization. According to scholars, EU has played a great role in democratization of Turkey’s political system and helped civilian government tame a military whose penchant for interference in political affairs resulted in two direct and two indirect coups. What started as an inspiring story of a Turkish model25 representing successful combination of political Islam, democracy and a prospering economy for the Middle Eastern region terribly wandered off the track under the same government.

Needless to say, the political control of media marks crumbling of a democratic system where authorities feel unrestrained and unbound to carry out any policy without fear of public backlash. Turkey’s lurch toward non-democratic mode of governance did not happen all of a sudden. President Erdogan’s gradual power grab through the use of democratic channels points to another phenomenon called as illiberal democracy where authoritarian leaders are elected by popular vote, but they slowly expand their grip beyond checks and balances system step by step. The slowmotion shipwreck in terms of democratic decline since 2013 has escalated after a failed coup in 2016.

The botched coup rattled entire nation, killed 241 people and wounded nearly 2,000 citizens. The nonsensical violence was ingrained in collective memory of the Turkish society for generations to come. What happened in the putsch’s aftermath was still an unfolding saga, with disastrous echoes for Turkey’s democracy, rule of law and media freedom. Numbers are staggering [19]. President Erdogan and his government used the abortive coup as a justification to launch a sweeping purge in the military, judiciary, police and civil service. The government has since ruled the country with decrees, which have the full force of laws, and placed Turkey under the state of emergency since then. More than 150,000 public servants26 have been summarily suspended or sacked without due process. According to the United Nations, Ankara has detained around 160,000 people since the coup.27 Out of them, more than 50,000 people, including generals, diplomats, teachers and ordinary citizens, have been imprisoned on coup-related or terrorism charges. The Turkish authorities placed the blame on faith-based Gulen Movement for the attempted coup. Both U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his sympathizers reject any link to the coup.

Though the government cracked down on Kurds and the left as well, members of Gulen Movement have borne the brunt of the post-coup clampdown. The authorities have encouraged social witch-hunt and urged people to inform on their neighbors, workplace friends and even their family members if they have any real or perceived ties to Gulen Movement. The toxic atmosphere of the purge and witch-hunt shattered major components of Turkey’s social fabric and led to the collapse of mutual trust and civic dialogue in public domain.

The post-coup crackdown began to unwind central pillars of the republican democracy and shredded whatever left of judicial independence after mass imprisonment of more than 3,000 judges and prosecutors the day after the coup. It has equally left the academia in disarray with sacking of nearly 7,000 academics. All branches of government were hit hard by the purge [20].

Not surprisingly, authorities have also crushed critical and independent media. More than 160 media outlets have been shut down28 and, according to Turkish Journalists Association, 154 journalists have been jailed.29 Some of the journalists were released later while authorities imprisoned new ones. The damage on existing institutions and media is beyond repair [21].

Additionally, a controversial referendum on adoption of executive presidential system took place last year. According to European observers,30 the pre-referendum campaign and the vote took place in unfair conditions where opposition who supported the No vote regarding constitutional amendment had little chance and room to express their voice. In contrary, President Erdogan and cabinet ministers enjoyed great deal of advantages at their disposal. Both state-run and pro-government media aired more ads and campaign of the Yes vote [22]. During this period, mainstream media found itself under great pressure and gave little space to the opponents of the constitutional change. A razor thin victory with 51.4 percent of the votes sealed what the president craved all for his life -- a shift to executive presidency [23]. The 2017 referendum exposed the dismal state of media no matter what the political consequences were. The result would have been different had the media been free was a conviction shared by many.

With the sale of Dogan Media Group to a pro-government businessmen, the destruction of mainstream media has been completed, Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gursel wrote after the acquisition last month [24].31 The deal marked the end of an era, Andrew Finkel, who in the past worked with Dogan media outlets, told Financial Times.32

In conclusion, the post-coup crackdown crippled Turkey’s public institutions, decimated Turkey’s most experienced civil servants and army generals, and hollowed out its independent and critical media outlets one by one. Free expression under the state of emergency has been systematically targeted [25]. During Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish enclave of Afrin, hundreds of people were detained over their anti-war opinions. Tens of thousands of social media account owners face investigation over their opinions about political matters. Numbers are baffling. So is the scope and depth of repression. Even Turkey’s already stalled EU process does not instill any confidence for an end to the protracted state of emergency and the ensuing crackdown on dissent. Brussels has no leverage or influence left in dealings with Ankara [25]. If the past is any guide, Turkey may well pull itself out of the looming precipice. After military coups in the past, and especially after the 1980 coup, which saw arrests of more than hundreds of thousands of people, Turkey gradually found its foot on right track by recovering its democracy step by step.

1Norman Davis, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Tony Judt, (April 10, 2018).

2New Handbook on Protecting the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe, RAupmF2S6voG/content/new-handbook-on-protecting-the-right-tofreedom- of-expression-under-the-european-convention-on-humanrights? inheritRedirect=false (April 14, 2018)

3Meltem Muftular Bac, Turkey’s Political Reforms and the Impact of the European Union, South European Society and Politics, 10, 1 (2005): 16-30.

4Bora Erdem, Avrupa Standartlarina Gore Turkiye’de Basin Ozgurlugu (Istanbul: Cinius, 2018), 20.

5Natalie Tocci, “Turkey and European Union, A Journey in the Unkown,” Brookings Institute, (April 10, 2018).

6Serif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas, (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2000).

7Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas.

8Erdem, Avrupa Standartlarina Gore Turkiye’de Basin Ozgurlugu, 63, 72.

9Nursen Mazici, 1930’a Kadar Basinin Durumu ve 1931 Matbuat Kanunu, (April 14, 2018).

10Bianet, 69. Yilinda Matbaasi Baskini ve Demokrasi Mucadelesi Sergisi, (April 15, 2018).

11Meltem Muftular Bac, Turkey’s Political Reforms and the Impact of the European Union, South European Society and Politics, 10, 1 (2005): 16-30.

12Erdem, Avrupa Standartlarina Gore Turkiye’de Basin Ozgurlugu, 241.

13Erdem, Avrupa Standartlarina Gore Turkiye’de Basin Ozgurlugu, 242.

14Joel Silmon, The New Censorship, Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 35.

15Gonca Tokyol, Dogan Medya Grubunun Demiroren’e Satisinda Ziraat Bankasi Kredisi de Kullanildi, T24, 587250 (April 16, 2018)

16Kenneth Roth, Erdogan’s Dangerous Trajectory, May 13, 2014, Human Rights Watch (April 16, 2018)

17Safak Timur and Tim Arango, Turkey Seizes Newspaper, Zaman, As Press Crackdown Continues, The New York Times, March 4, 2016, (April 16, 2018).

18Dalibor Rohac, Hungary and Poland Aren’t Democratic. They’re Authoritarian. Foreign Policy, (April 16, 2018)

19Murat Somer, Understanding Turkey’s democratic breakdown: Old vs. New and Indigenous vs. Global Authoritarianism. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 16(4), 481-503.

20In Italy Election, Anti-E.U. Views Pay Off For Far Right and Populists, The New York Times, March 4, 2018 (April 16, 2018)

21Silmon, The New Censorship, Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, 32.

22Silmon, The New Censorship, Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, 33.

23Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), 24.

24Post-truth Politics: The Art of the Lie, The Economist, September 10, 2016 (April 16, 2018)

25Shibley Telhami, The 2011 Arab Public Opinion Poll, Brookings Institute, November 21, 2011, (April 16, 2018).

26Aria Bendix, Turkey Dismisses Thousands of Police, Civil Sevants and Academics, The Atlantic, (April 16, 2018)

27Orhan Coskun, Pro-Erdogan agrees to buy owner of Hurriyet newspaper, CNN Turk. Reuters, March 21, 2018 (April 16, 2018).

28Turkey: Silencing the Media, Human Rights Watch, December 15, 2016, April 16, 2018).

29Coskun, Pro-Erdogan agrees to buy owner of Hurriyet newspaper, CNN Turk. Reuters.

30Niamh McIntyre, EU observer in Turkey condemns referendum as ‘neither fair nor free,’ The Indepent, April 17, 2017, a7686876.html (April 16, 2018).

31Abdullah Ayasun, Dogan Media Sale Set to Alter Turkey’s Press Landscape, Globe Post Turkey (April 16, 2018).

32Laura Pitel, Turkish press baron agrees to sell media arm to Erdogan ally, Financial Times, March 21, 2018 (April 16, 2018).


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