Turkey’s reform-minded Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is nothing like his iron-fisted Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin—right?
Think again. In both leaders’ countries, journalists who dare to
criticize the government often end up behind bars. In Erdogan’s Turkey,
as in Putin’s Russia, the ruling clique’s political adversaries have
been hounded by courts and police and have spent months or years in jail
without trial, while oppositionist businessmen have been slapped with
ruinous tax bills. On at least two dismal indices, Turkey ranks even
worse than Russia: Reporters Without Borders’ latest Press Freedom Index
puts Turkey in 148th place, behind Russia at 142, and the European
Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of 174 violations last year,
while runner-up Russia had 133.
What went wrong? Erdogan came to power a decade ago in a landslide, promising to make Turkey an “advanced democracy” by getting the Army out of politics for the first time in modern history. And at first he did just that, earning warm support from Europe for his reforms. In 2005, the European Union began negotiations for full membership. But this bold reform program began to fall apart in June 2007 after police discovered two secret hoards of weapons and explosives. Investigators accused a shadowy group they called Ergenekon, an alleged ultranationalist conspiracy of military officers supposedly plotting a coup, and the roundup has been growing ever since. The latest wave of arrests, targeting alleged sympathizers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has netted some 3,500 Kurdish politicians and activists. To date, 249 senior military officers have been jailed, including 35 generals and even the former chief of the General Staff (who denied all charges against him, calling them “tragicomic”), along with more than 100 journalists.
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