News You Really Need To See: “Politics: Getting Off the Train”

“Politics: Getting Off the Train”

The Economist, February 6-12, 26, 2016, p.5 [special report]

“Early in his career Mr Erdogan made a telling remark he was later to regret. Democracy is like a train, he said; you get off once you have reached your destination.  Now many of his party’s critics fear that Turkey’s president may be getting close to that goal. It is not just that Mr Erdogan wants to rewrite the constitution to award himself executive presidential powers.  The trouble is that he hardly needs them.  Sometimes overtly, but often by stealth and dissimulation, the AK party has spread its tentacles across Turkish society.  The courts, the police, the intelligence services, the mosques, the public education and health systems and the media are all, in one way or another, subject to the party’s overweening influence. … One example is the use of legislation that penalises insults to the head of state. Turkey’s criminal code has contained such a law since 1926, but it was rarely applied before Mr Erdogan was elected president in August 2014.  Opposition MPs say that since then state prosecutors have investigated more than 1,500 people for insulting the president, a crime that can carry a sentence of more than four years. In the first ten months of 2015 nearly 100 people were held in custody on such charges, including cartoonists and journalists, but also teenage boys who had defaced campaign posters or posted Facebook messages.  A woman in Izmir was recently sentenced to 11 months in prison for a rude hand gesture directed at Mr Erdogan. … The most glaring example of the AK party’s creeping annexation of the public sphere, however, are Turkey’s media.  By putting pressure on private owners and making vigorous use of laws against incitement, defamation and the spread of ‘terrorist propaganda’, the party has come to exercise control over all but a handful of broadcasters and news publishers. … According to one media expert in Istanbul, the takeover of Koza Ipek has left just three news channels out of Turkey’s top 40 that are critical of the AK party.  Reporters Without Borders now ranks Turkey 149th out of 180 countries on its World Freedom Index, just three places above Russia and 51 down on 2005.

Quickie analysisThe Economist‘s entire special report on Turkey is excellent.  This article is a concise look at the ways in which Erdogan and the AK Party are exerting increasing control over all aspects of Turkish life.

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