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Amid widespread protests, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was not a dictator. Here are 7 examples that suggest otherwise.
"I'm not a dictator. It's not even in my blood," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the beginning of June, as protests across the country continued to spread. To be fair, Erdogan was democratically elected with 50 percent of the vote just two years ago. But some of his actions since his election worry Turkish citizens, including his most recent move to arrest 30 protesters.
1. He's still arresting people
On Tuesday, Turkish police arrested dozens in a widening crackdown on protests in Istanbul. While the widespread protests had mostly cooled due to use of teargas and force by the military to dispel participants, these arrests note a distinct uptick in the ongoing unrest. In recent weeks, Erdogan vaguely claimed that the protests that brought down former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are linked to the unrest on his own turf. He has in the past also linked Brazil's protests to the troubles in Turkey, claiming it all to be part of an international conspiracy to topple his rule.
2. He jails more journalists than anyone else
According to an October 2012 report, Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. With 76 journalists in prison at the time of the report, Turkey had incarcerated nearly double the amount of journalists as Iran (the world’s next worst offender at 42) and nearly three times as many as China. What is the primary cause? Loose interpretations of anti-terrorism laws that allow prosecutors to go after anyone who creates “propaganda’’ for “criminal organizations’’ or shares a criminal organization’s ideology. Just last month, courts sentenced a Turkish-Armenian journalist to 13 months in jail for posting “insulting” comments about the Prophet Mohammed on his blog.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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. We've covered this already, but it bears repeating: Press freedom groups estimate that more than 200 reporters are now behind bars.
6. He is trying to outlaw public displays of affection and alcohol
Okay, now things are getting real. In recent weeks, Erdogan passed legislation that threatens some personal rights of Turkish citizens. Erdogan's administration recently warned citizens against public displays of affection. Another hot-button issue is his move to make alcohol and advertisements for alcohol illegal in many places, causing some demonstrators in the last few days to raise cans of beer in protest. Why is Erdogan making these moves? He said, “I want them to know that I want these [restrictions] for the sake of their health.” Others suspect the prime minister is attempting to impose his conservative Islamic values on the population as a whole.
7. 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 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 in the recent announcement of a ceasefire and peace agreement in the Kurdish south. But critics say that Erdogan’s government is not all that it seems. The Economist reports that membership in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is still punishable by imprisonment, with thousands of sympathetic activists, journalists and students now behind bars. The question remains as to what the future of Turkish Kurds will be under Erdogan’s leadership.