Erdogan proclaims Turkey’s press “freest in world” as harassment of journalists intensifies

Without even a trace of a smile, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has, in recent days, repeatedly stated that “Turkey has the world’s freest press.” Indeed, he made the same declaration today as, almost simultaneously, Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink was called in for questioning.

The raid on Geerdink’s house was surprising only because she was a foreigner.  Sadly, harassment of journalists viewed as critical of the government has become routine in Turkey.   Only a day before the raid on Geerdink’s home, journalist Sedef Kabaş was again called in for questioning, apparently for tweets that she made regarding the abrupt closure of  a major corruption case against government officials.  Only a couple weeks before that, police raided the homes and offices of other journalists as part of its crackdown on the Gülen Movement.

The use of overbroad anti-terror statutes and an array of problematic laws aimed at regulating free speech is, of course, nothing new in Turkey.  Amnesty highlighted these problematic statutes in its landmark 2013 report, Decriminalize dissent: Time to deliver on the right to freedom of expression.

Tragically, subsequent judicial packages have not adequately addressed these shortfalls.  The reason for this is clear, Turkish authorities want the capacity to use police power to limit.  The fundamental problem is not police acting on badly written statutes.  It is that the government itself has maintained these statutes so that it can use the police against perceived political enemies. 

Today’s arrest of Geerdink, coming on the same day that the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, is scheduled to meet with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara, suggests that the Turkish government now feels unhindered by Western criticism. 

In the meantime, with most of the national press largely cowed and compliant, it can continue to proclaim its journalists “the freest in the world.”

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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