Black humour: Erdoğan says no group’s freedom has deteriorated in 16 years of AKP rule in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that the freedom of no individual or an ethnic or religious group had deteriorated in Turkey in the last 16 years.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA) headquarters in İstanbul, Erdoğan claimed, “In the last 16 years, the freedom of no individual, ethnic or religious group has deteriorated in Turkey; their lives were not interfered with.”

Erdoğan added that an environment had been created where no one is discriminated against on their choice of clothing or appearance. “We are trying to lift the barriers between our youths and their dreams.”

“We will continue to work on expanding rights and freedoms as well as improving democracy, although some people have made a habit of distorting the reality,” Erdoğan said amid the Turkish government’s efforts to mend ties with the European Union and European countries.

However, the realities in Turkey are totally the opposite of what Erdoğan attempted to reflect. The Turkish government led by Erdoğan launched a crackdown on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that intensified as Turkey headed to the polls in the June 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections.

According to the HDP, over 10,000 of its members are in jail, along with nine parliamentary deputies, including former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, and about 100 elected mayors. Demirtaş, jailed in 2016 over accusations of terrorism and separatism, ran against Erdoğan in the June 24 presidential election, garnering 8,4 percent of the vote from behind bars and with almost zero coverage from the mainstream media.

In addition to jailed or prosecuted HDP mayors, 95 mayors from the Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) out of 102 in total were dismissed by the government, and most of them were prosecuted. The government has also arrested 93 mayors and 81 council members across southern Turkey over alleged terrorism links since Sept. 11, 2016. More than 2,000 people have been dismissed by trustees from their municipal jobs.

At least 58 suspicious deaths have occurred in Turkish prisons since July 15, 2016, according to a report released by Turkey Purge, a group monitoring human rights violations in Turkey.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) also reported in one of its studies titled “Suspicious Deaths and Suicides In Turkey” that there has been an increase in the number of suspicious deaths in Turkey, most in jails and detention centers, where torture and ill-treatment are being practiced. In the majority of cases, authorities concluded they were suicides without any effective, independent investigation.

Suspicious deaths have also taken place beyond prison walls amid psychological pressure and threats of imminent imprisonment and torture, sometimes following the release of suspects or just before their detention. SCF has compiled 122 cases of suspicious deaths and suicides in Turkey in a list in a searchable database format as of September 21, 2018.

Moreover, Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 7, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

The crackdown on critical thinking by Erdoğan’s government with an unprecedented witch hunt targeting teachers, academics and other professionals in the education sector has dealt a huge blow to free thought in Turkey, according to a report released by SCF.

The government of Erdoğan has jailed some 20,000 instructors and arbitrarily fired 34,185 public school teachers and 5,719 academics including professors from state universities within the last two years alone. They were branded as “terrorists” and “coup plotters” without any effective administrative or judicial probe and as such marked for life.

The government shut down 1,069 privately run schools, most of which were the nation’s best performing science schools and were affiliated with the Gülen movement, and closed down 15 universities that were run by privately held foundations. As a result, 2,465 academics and 54,350 teachers instantly became unemployed. With the support staff who worked in these schools, the total number of people who lost their jobs reached 65,214. The government also canceled the licenses of 22,474 teachers, making it impossible for them to continue working as teachers in other institutions.

In total, 96,719 teachers and academics were purged from Turkey’s public and private educational institutions. This number does not include the support staff that was hired to run schools and universities in administrative and other capacities.

Most of the shuttered institutions were transformed into religious schools that are designed to raise a new generation of Islamist supporters for Erdoğan’s AKP.

When all the closed institutions are taken into account, the total loss in value including fixed property and land is around $100 billion, one source estimates. The crackdown included foreign students who came to Turkey for study or Turkish students who were sent abroad on government scholarships.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since the coup attempt in July 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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