Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who labelled the coup “a gift from God”, has used it to declare an ongoing state of emergency giving him wide latitude to rule by decree and purge real or perceived opponents. More than 170 media outlets have been shuttered and hundreds of thousands of people have been dismissed from their jobs or detained without due process.
Nearly all of those detained since the coup attempt are accused of supporting terrorists; either Gülenists, outlawed Kurdish separatist groups waging a decades-long insurgency in the country’s south-east, or, in some cases, both – a paradox given the two factions’ hostility to one another. The cases rely widely on allegations that are at-best unsupported; and neither the government nor the judiciary – either controlled or cowed by Erdogan – appear eager to give these journalists a day in court, much less bring written indictments that could be reviewed independently.
The mass closures of media outlets that speak out against Turkey’s government and the detention of scores of journalists marks the culmination of a pattern of repression that began years ago. Although Turkey’s media has never been fully free, the country made progress toward meeting its human rights commitments last decade in the early years of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s rule, with the EU accession process playing a key role.
However, after the AKP won an overwhelming victory in the 2007 parliamentary elections, Erdoğan made increasing use of a toxic, albeit effective, combination of legal, regulatory, economic and popular pressure to weaken checks and balances, erode respect for human rights and stifle dissent. That trend continued to accelerate in 2014, when Erdogan was elected Turkey’s president and continued to wield control, despite the post’s largely ceremonial nature.
Today, fewer and fewer voices remain willing to hold Erdogan accountable as a public servant, even as he pushes to consolidate sweeping authority in his presidency and make permanent many of the powers he has enjoyed under the state of emergency, potentially extending his rule until 2029.
Media freedom – in contributing to government accountability, and to an open, transparent and more equal society – is essential for stability. But as respect for democracy and human rights declines in Turkey, and as independent voices are silenced and only pro-government voices are heard, observers fear that instability will only grow and will spread beyond Turkey’s borders.
In order to check that spread, balance must be restored. Turkey’s government needs to end its crackdown on independent media and allow the country’s people receive the information they need to hold their leaders accountable and make informed decisions about their future. The first step in doing so is by ensuring that all journalists identified on this website are afforded due process and by freeing any journalist who is behind bars as a result of his or her work.