From the man who repeatedly attacks any news outlet who dares to print or broadcast his name in connection with anything negative – even the New York Times in the home of free speech – Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 12th President of Turkey, finds himself in a bit of a quandary.
He suffered a rare setback on June 7th this year when the governing AK party he founded failed to win enough votes in a parliamentary election to remain in power as a single-party government. He had hoped for a sweeping victory which would have allowed the party to change the constitution and give him greater power.
An example of the greater powers on his wish-list were amply displayed in the run-up to election, with his crackdown on the free press and journalists that created a mood of repression not seen since Turkey cemented its respectable place as a democratic nation with an Islamic and secularist identity.
According to the Turkish media watchdog Bianet, 32 journalists and news publishers were in prison as of January 2015 in the country. Almost all journalists and publishers jailed in 2014 were charged with leading or being affiliated with illegal armed groups under the Turkish Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Bianet data shows that detentions and attacks on journalists and publishers increased significantly in 2014 and 2013 compared with previous years. Journalists and media publishers reported 148 verbal and physical assaults in 2014 and 186 in 2013, compared with 46 reported assaults in 2012 and 33 in 2011.
What was Erdogan so afraid of that bad press could deliver when his poll ratings were consistently high?
All this comes from the leader who tried (unsuccessfully) to ban Twitter and YouTube after incriminating audio recordings revealing corruption inside his government popped up on these services. In response Erdogan said his enemies were abusing the platforms.
‘We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,’ Erdogan said at an election campaign rally in Bursa following this revelation.
Can you guess how the Twitter world erupted on that note?
Parody aside, Erdogan has called for the life-imprisonment of well-known Turkish journalist Can Dundar for his story on how the Turkish military was providing logistical support for ISIS in northern Syria against Kurdish fighters. Dundar’s paper published a report with still shots from a video allegedly showing Turkish military trucks sending weapons to Syria. Erdogan critics have repeatedly accused him of backing anti-government fighters in Syria, including ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Erdogan is firmly against the creation of any Kurdish state in northern Syria, accusing Kurdish fighters of ethnically cleansing non-Kurdish communities from land they have taken after pushing back ISIS militants.
Dundar, in context, replied to Erdogan’s call for charges on Twitter, tweeting, ‘We are journalists. Our mission is not to store the dirty secrets of the state.’
Can has 1.9m followers on Twitter. Poignant, no?
Sources: The Guardian, middleeasteye.net, freedomhouse.org