Turkey remains ‘not free’ according to Freedom House report

Turkey remains “not free” with a score of 32/100, in the same category as Russia, China and Iran, according to “Freedom in the World 2021,” the annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties released today by Freedom House.

The report underlined that prosecutions and campaigns of harassment against opposition politicians, prominent members of civil society, independent journalists and critics of Turkey’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy continued throughout 2020.

“While Erdoğan continues to exert tremendous power in Turkish politics, opposition victories in 2019 municipal elections and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the already shaky economy have given the government new incentives to suppress dissent and limit public discourse,” the watchdog said.

The erosion of due process guarantees and evidentiary standards particularly in cases involving terrorism charges, torture and degrading treatment specifically targeting Kurds, supporters of the Gülen movement and leftists; the Turkish government’s refusal to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for the release of jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala; Ankara’s continued replacement of dozens of Kurdish-oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors with appointed “trustees”; the continuing closure of news outlets and the arrest of journalists; and the weakening of academic freedoms were among the issues highlighted in the report.

The report evaluates countries based on 10 political rights and 15 civil liberties indicators including political pluralism and participation, freedom of expression and belief, rule of law and individual rights. A score is typically changed only if there has been a real-world development during the year that warrants a decline or improvement (e.g., a crackdown on the media, the country’s first free and fair elections), though gradual changes in conditions — in the absence of a signal event — are occasionally registered in the scores.

Turkey scored “0” out of four in areas of openness and transparency of government operations and the prevailing of due process in civil and criminal matters.

The report also said Turkey had a destabilizing effect in its region. The Turkish-backed war in Nagorno-Karabakh led to “shattered hopes for tentative reform movements in … Armenia,” it said.

The report also showed that the deterioration of democracy continued around the world. It found that the share of countries designated “Not Free” had reached its highest level since 2006 and that countries with declines in political rights and civil liberties outnumbered those with gains by the largest margin recorded during the 15-year period. The report downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, representing 75 percent of the global population.

“Global leadership and solidarity from democratic states are urgently needed,” Freedom House said. “Governments that understand the value of democracy, including the new administration in Washington, have a responsibility to band together to deliver on its benefits, counter its adversaries, and support its defenders.”

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