Turkey in full-speed democratic degeneration

Turkey in full-speed democratic degeneration

Ironically enough, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım cited improving the state of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey among the top priorities of his government in his weekly address to his parliamentary group on July 21.  

“Just like our previous governments, our first priority is to improve our democracy, to fully put the rule of law in place and to take measures for the welfare and happiness of our people,” Yıldırım said, recalling that his government has just marked its first month in power.

Unfortunately, developments in the field look far away from Yıldırım’s pledge of higher democratic standards for Turkey. Citing just a few of the unpleasant incidents in recent days is enough to show Turkey’s darkening image with regard to democracy. 

Firstly, the right to free assembly and the right to demonstrate of LGBT groups, throughout Pride Week, has been denied by the Istanbul Governor’s Office on the grounds of security concerns and public order. LGBT groups who wanted to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of the Orlando massacre on July 19 faced a harsh crackdown from the Istanbul Police Department. 

The stated source of security concern was an open threat issued by the Alperen Hearths, an ultranationalist youth organization linked to the Great Union Party (BBP). The group initially vowed to prevent the march by whatever means necessary but later stepped back, saying they only wanted their religious values to be taken into consideration.

Instead of challenging the Alperen Hearths and announcing that the march would be protected by the security forces, the Istanbul governor opted to ban the Pride March, thus indirectly allowing this archaic group’s threats to reach their objective. 

In another incident, again in Istanbul, a group of 20 assailants carrying sticks and bottles attacked the Velvet IndieGround record store, beating up its owners and Radiohead fans at a listening party for the band’s latest album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.”

In the eyes of these assailants, their “crime” was to be listening to music and drinking alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. For President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, both sides were wrong. “To intervene with force is as wrong as engaging in such an event that poured onto the streets during Ramadan. Both sides are wrong. Those who do not respect the sensibilities of their own nation and city and those who respond to this with an undemocratic reaction unfortunately overshadowed our hospitality with the brawl they started,” he said.

Meanwhile, in just the latest violation of freedom of expression, two journalists and one human rights activist were arrested on June 20 on charges of “making terrorist propaganda.” Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) head Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, and journalist Ahmet Nesin were among the journalists and activists who have taken part in Özgür Gündem’s “Editor-in-chief on Duty” campaign, which was started on World Press Freedom Day. 

In the meantime, 10 suspects who were charged with up to four years in prison over a Sept. 8, 2015 attack on daily Hürriyet’s printing house in the Turkish capital Ankara have been acquitted of all charges by a local court. That ruling followed a series of verdicts proving the general sense of impunity in Turkey - especially regarding attacks targeting critical media professionals and institutions.    

Another development that we can cite is the resignation of Professor Christoph K. Neumann from Istanbul’s Bilgi University following the dismissal of his colleague, Professor Zeynep Sayın Balıkçıoğlu, who was accused of “insulting” President Erdoğan during a lecture.

Unfortunately, Prof. Balıkçıoğlu will not be the last academic to be dismissed for allegedly “insulting” the president, and Prof. Neumann will not be the last academic to resign in reaction against such moves.  

The degeneration in the state of democracy in Turkey has unfortunately gained fresh impetus following the establishment of the new government under Prime Minister Yıldırım. Indeed, Turkey’s growing authoritarian trend is showing no sign of reversing.