Turkey has descended into an authoritarian government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is currently “the world’s biggest prison for media professionals,” according to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The Muslim-majority country was ranked as 155th this year for press freedom out of 180 countries, marking a drop from 151st place in 2016.
“Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned without trial, turning Turkey into the world’s biggest prison for media personnel,” notes RSF. “Those still free are exposed to other forms of arbitrary treatment including waves of trials, withdrawal of press cards, cancellation of passports, and seizure of assets. Censorship of online social networks has also reached unprecedented levels.”
“After the failed coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey (down 4 at 155th) swung over into the authoritarian regime camp,” adds 2017 World Press Index.
This year, President Erdogan claimed victory in a controversial referendum vote to expand his powers.
“The witchhunt waged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government against its media critics has come to a head since the abortive coup of July 2016,” explains RSF. “The authorities have used their fight against ‘terrorism’ as grounds for an unprecedented purge. A state of emergency has allowed them to eliminate dozens of media outlets at the stroke of a pen, reducing pluralism to a handful of low-circulation publications.”
According to the annual press freedom index, the predominantly Muslim Middle East and North Africa region remains the globe’s “most difficult and dangerous” territory for journalists.
Critics of the current Turkish administration accuse Erdogan of eroding the country’s democracy.
“The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,” said Christophe Deloire, the RSF secretary-general. “Where will this downward spiral take us?”
RSF’s Turkey-linked findings echoed recent comments from the U.S. representative of the pro-Kurdish Turkish opposition party known as the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP).
Mehmet Yuksel of the HDP, which has contested the results of the recent vote that expanded Erdogan’s powers, told U.S. lawmakers this month that Erdogan is pushing Turkey towards authoritarianism.
Referring to the referendum, Yuksel proclaimed, “The constitutional amendments that are proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK [Justice and Development] Party projects an authoritarian system of governance, whereby absolute power is held by a single person.”
“On November 18, 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, expressed grave concerns about the ‘draconian’ measures being used to erode independent opinion and expression in Turkey,” he acknowledged.