Critics of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have for years been warning that the country, under the leadership of now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has taken an authoritarian turn after several years of reform-minded action. Supporters of the AKP and Erdogan, meanwhile, have denied the charge, accusing the critics of being disgruntled supporters of a previous status quo who are simply upset with seeing their once privilaged position in society disappear.
A new report issued today by Human Rights Watch goes a long way towards settling this debate, accusing the Turkish government of "taking far-reaching steps to weaken the rule of law, control the media and Internet, and clamp down on critics and protestors." From HRW's report:
Turkey is undergoing a worrying rollback of human rights. In office for twelve years under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—elected president in August 2014—the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) has shown increasing intolerance of political opposition, public protest, and critical media. Over the past nine months, in an effort to stifle corruption investigations, the AKP government has sought to curb the independence of the judiciary and weaken the rule of law. The erosion of human rights through limitations on media freedom, clampdown on protest, and further loss of trust in Turkey’s politicized criminal justice system have deepened political polarization in the country.
The rollback of human rights has taken place against a background of mass anti- government protests last year, and corruption allegations that go to the very heart of the AKP government and emerged out of a simmering conflict within the political establishment between the AKP and its former ally, the influential Gülen movement led by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Considering the AKP's early years were marked by making significant reforms and taking important steps towards joining the European Union, the decline in the quality of Turkey's democracy that the HRW reports charts marks a dramatic turnaround for the government. “Over the past year, Erdoğan’s AKP has responded to political opposition by tearing up the rule book, silencing critical voices, and wielding a stick,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the organization's senior Turkey researcher and author of the report. “For the sake of Turkey’s future and the rights of its citizens, the government needs to change course and protect rights instead of attacking them.”
As the report notes, even the AKP's most promising democratization effort -- initiating a resolution process with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- could suffer as a result of Turkey's authoritarian drift. “The clampdown on rights and interference with the judiciary run counter to government’s positive commitment to a peace process with the Kurds and may well jeopardize it,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Protecting human rights and strengthening the rule of law for everyone is the best way to make sure the Kurdish peace process will succeed.”