Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Human Rights in Turkey: the Decline Continues

by Elliott Abrams
January 10, 2012


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.



Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Reader1

    I really value your blog, thank you; insights and expertise like yours are hard to find. Regarding this post:

    It’s a critical issue and far more widespread than Turkey; some other examples:

    * Israel: Recent laws authorize imprisonment of people who call for boycotts, allow imprisonment of illegal immigrants for 3 years without trial, and require loyalty oaths; plus continuing property rights issues.

    * Hungary: Restrictions on press freedom

    * France and other European countries: Restrictions on Muslim religous practices; legal discrimination against Roma.

    * United States: Warrantless searches, torture, imprisonment without trial

    Who will stand up for essential liberal values? I think the well-informed assume that the debate been won and there is no threat; but the public doesn’t understand that history and only sees leaders who advocate compromising liberties. Nobody is making the forceful case for why they are essential.

  • Posted by Dubi

    Reader1, none of your comments about Israel is true. The laws of which you speak have been proposed but have not become law.

  • Posted by Reader1

    Hello Dubi,

    Thanks for commenting. I was talking about a general trend; my point wasn’t about Israel. However, are these reports incorrect?

    * Boycott prohibition:

    * Migrant imprisonment (which is harsher than I said):

    * Loyalty oath: A quick search finds reports of the cabinet passing it, but not what happened in the Knesset.

    Property rights issues are very well known and documented.

  • Posted by TurkeyEmergency

    Freedom in Turkey is threatened with manipulation and fabrication from all angles. Every indictment of the big cases going on like Ergenekon, Balyoz and one related to soccer, contain serious fallacies.

    For example Cetin Dogan, a general accused of plotting a coup d’etat, is supposed to have had a document put together in 2003 that lists all depot spaces that can be used in a coup. The problem is that there are names of companies that didn’t exist in 2003 but only after 2007, which means that the documents are fake. One document even uses the font Calibri, which didn’t exist in 2003. Despite all of these being proven in a matter of minutes, the case hasn’t been dropped. Imagine what would happen in a rational country…

    You can find more details and videos on this here http://www.turkeyemergency.com/2012/turkish-time-travel-presents-balyoz-ergenekon-and-fenerbahce-match-fixing-cases/

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