The Turkic American Alliance and its six Member Federations strongly condemn detentions of Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of Zaman Daily, Hidayet Karaca, chief executive of Samanyolu Media Group, and dozens of others, on phony charges, as a blatant breach of press freedom and rule of law. This development is a huge blow to Turkey’s already waning image as a progressing Muslim democracy compatible with Western values. Similar actions aimed to suppress the dissent in Turkey at the anniversary of the corruption scandal in December 2013, are expected to continue in the following days.
Due to increasingly reckless anti-democratic policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the direction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is rapidly transforming into a one-man, one-party state. Separation of powers and rule of law have been seriously undermined. Many societal groups deeply concerned with the direction of the country have been subject to constant pressure and intimidation. In 2013, the protests in Gezi Park were suppressed by extremely harsh police tactics by the current regime. Since the corruption scandal of December 2013, AKP, the ruling party has treated those who question the government’s controversial actions as “enemies of the state”, with an obsessive focus on the supporters of the peaceful Hizmet movement. Corruption investigations have largely been covered-up and press is frequently silenced by coercion or bribes. Unsurprisingly, independent news organizations such as Zaman, Today’s Zaman, Bugun, Taraf, Sozcu and STV are the main targets of the politically guided legal actions.
Turkey has already been under international scrutiny for poor governance and human rights. Freedom House recently downgraded Turkey to ‘not free’ in its latest press freedom report. According to Transparency International (TI) 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, Turkey’s ranking has worsened the most among all nations, dropping by five points to 45 out of 100. A new wave of attacks to critical journalists and civil society leaders would only bolster Turkey’s image as a failed democracy.
In light of these unfortunate developments, we strongly call on Turkish government to respect rights of all its citizens, particularly freedom of press, expression and assembly, and refrain from actions undermining democracy and rule of law. The need for Turkish support and resources on the war against ISIL should not stop the international community from pressing their counterparts in Ankara privately and publicly on human rights and democracy. A Turkey which turns away from the shared democratic values would only become a less stable and reliable Western ally, and more susceptible to radical influences.