Turkey, a country that has been in near-constant turmoil for years, recently took further steps to block free expression when it banned 4,000 public officials and blocked access to Wikipedia and television matchmaking shows. It’s just the latest in a recent string of crackdowns against free speech, which come after the current president was narrowly given much more power.
Erdogan’s Growing Power
In mid April, President Recep Yayyip Erdogan narrowly won a referendum vote that added sweeping powers to his position. The vote will change Turkey’s constitution so that the winner of the 2019 presidential election will fully control the government, effectively ending the current parliamentary system.
Many people hoped Erdogan would work to build greater national unity by slowing down his crackdown of dissenters, but the opposite appears to be true. With the most recent move, Erdogan has once again asserted his power. Many in Turkey and around the world fear the recent vote will cement Erdogan’s authoritarian grasp over the country, and recent events indicate their fears may have some merit.
Civil Servants Fired
Nearly 4,000 Turkish public employees were fired over the weekend from a number of ministries. At the same time, 45 civil society groups and health clinics were closed. The move brings the total number of fired public sector employees to around 140,000 and the number of closed civil groups to 1,500 since an unsuccessful coup last year. Since the failed coup, the country has been in a state of emergency, with many public servants and members of the opposition party being intimidated, threatened, and ultimately jailed or fired.
Of the total fired employees, more than 9,000 workers were suspended who are accused of having ties to a group founded by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Although Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan was once connected to the group, he has turned his back on it and tried to dissociate with members after it was discovered the group was behind a failed attempt to remove him from power in July. Supporters of the group now live in fear of what Erdogan will do next.
Wikipedia Shut Down
Turkish citizens also lost access to Wikipedia, which was banned after it refused to take down content that government officials found offensive. The site’s founder responded to the outage on Twitter, saying, “Access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”
More than 150 new outlets have been shut down since the failed coup, an action that has been justified by the government because it says the articles were part of “a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.”
The other media ban of the weekend was restricting TV dating programs, which are incredibly popular in Turkey and bring in huge amounts of ad revenue. The shows have long been detested by both liberals and conservatives for their treatment of the dating process, especially their representation of women.
Erdogan’s actions and growing power have effects are over the world. Turkey is a leading player in the Syrian civil war and has a strategic location on the migration routes to Europe, which has become more important in recent years. The country is also a crucial partner in the Middle East for the United States and Russia.
The country’s new political system could change Turkey’s relationship with other countries and its setting on the global stage. By essentially giving all the power to the president, the country is at risk for losing its system of checks and balances, which could limit judicial oversight.
However, those in favor of the referendum believe centralized government better equips Turkey to improve its struggling economy, fight domestic terrorism, and manage its huge influx of Syrian refugees.
Things are definitely changing in Turkey, and limiting citizens’ freedom of speech and expression could only add to the dissection and unrest, which could have an affect on the rest of the world.