Facing a damaging corruption probe that he didn't even know about until a few weeks ago, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did what any dictator, er leader, would do: he sacked the investigators.
The government has reportedly dismissed hundreds of police officers across the country since the investigation was revealed on Dec. 17 when dozens of leading businessman and political figures, including the sons of three ministers, were rounded up.
As Erdogan battles to contain the growing scandal, which poses the biggest threat to his 11-year rule and could even ensnare one of his two sons, it's worth looking back at that comment he made in June when Turks flooded the streets to protest against what they saw as his growing authoritarianism.
"I'm not a dictator. It's not even in my blood," Erdogan, who was democratically elected with 50 percent of the vote in 2011, said at the time.
Many Turks would beg to differ.
Turkish protesters clash with riot police in Istanbul on Jan. 5, 2014. AFP
1. He's sacking police officers
The Turkish government gave 350 police officers in the capital Ankara their marching orders on Tuesday, including the chiefs of financial crimes, anti-smuggling, cyber crime and organized crime units. The latest dismissals take the total number of police officers sacked in Ankara since Dec. 17 to 560. Their crime? Investigating the activities of powerful businessmen and political figures without the knowledge of Erdogan and his supporters.
2. He's trying to interfere in police investigations
The Turkish government, angry about being kept in the dark about the year-long corruption probe, announced a regulation in late December that would have forced police officers to disclose the findings of their investigations to their superiors. But a court immediately blocked the implementation of the rule on the grounds it contradicted "the principle of the separation of powers."
3.He's arresting people for expressing their point of view
In recent days, Turkish police have arrested dozens in a crackdown on anti-government protests across the country that called for the downfall of the government amid the widening corruption scandal. Police used tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets to disperse demonstrators, reviving memories of last summer's brutal response to protests that left more than 8,000 people injured and as many as five dead. Erdogan faced international criticism for the heavyhanded response to last year's demonstrations, which he claimed were part of an international conspiracy to overthrow his government.
4. He jails more journalists than anyone else
For the second year in a row, Turkey had more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world, according to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists in December. With 40 journalists in prison – down from the 49 reported a year ago – Turkey had incarcerated more than Iran (the world’s next worst offender at 35), China (32) and Eritrea (22). What is the primary cause?
5. He also jails a lot of non-journalists, using the possible existence of a shadowy group called the ‘Deep State’ to justify it
Perhaps the murkiest aspect of the modern Turkish state is ‘Ergenekon,’ a clandestine group of ultra-nationalists, opposition civil and military figures, and organized crime syndicates. Erdogan has used the group's alleged existence to leverage greater political power. Said to have been formed in the 1970’s, this so-called Derin Develet — or Deep State — has been the impetus behind a growing number of arrests and show-trials in the country. Freedom House says that as many as 300 reporters and political dissidents are waiting behind bars as a results of government probes into Ergenekon. Watchdog groups call that a serious violation of human rights.
6. He censors the internet
While most of Turkey’s internet censorship combats betting, pornography, and pedophilia, the country’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority has a long, and somewhat bizarre, list of banned keywords, including “sister-in-law,” “animals,” and “skirt.” More seriously, many leftist sites and news sites that are pro-Kurdish, a marginalized ethnic minority, are also blocked by the government.
7. He doesn't seem to respect much the concept of separation of powers
Under Erdogan, the autonomy of the Turkish judicial system appears to have weakened. The Financial Times reports that, in addition to increased government intervention in the outcome of court cases, activists accuse Erdogan’s administration of engaging in judicial cronyism, giving disproportionate legal power to political friends. The government has also brought legal cases against all manner of political opponents, including members of the news media who are most outspoken against Erdogan’s policies. The problem continues today.
8. He is trying to outlaw public displays of affection and alcohol
Last year's protests erupted after Erdogan passed legislation that threatened some personal rights of Turkish citizens. Erdogan's administration warned citizens against public displays of affection. Another hot-button issue was his move to make alcohol and advertisements for alcohol illegal in many places, causing some demonstrators to raise cans of beer in protest. Erdogan justified the controversial restrictions as protecting the health of Turks. But many suspected the prime minister was attempting to impose his conservative Islamic values on the population as a whole.
9. He continues to oppress the Kurds
The Kurds have long been relegated to the periphery of Turkey’s history. At first glance, Erdogan has done well by the Kurds. When he came to power more than a decade ago, he did something that no previous Turkish prime minister has ever done before — he acknowledge the existence of the Kurdish problem. This radical break from traditional Turkish policy was met with praise from Western observers, culminating last year's ceasefire and peace agreement in the Kurdish south, though this looks to be on the brink of collapse. The question remains as to what the future of Turkish Kurds will be under Erdogan’s leadership.