With two new executive orders, the Turkish government has inflicted a fatal blow to mostly Kurdish media, shutting down 15 media outlets, and purged more than 10,000 public servants in the latest round of crackdown against non-loyalists.
The targeting of Kurdish media comes at a time of government’s escalating crackdown on civilian and political Kurdish organizations and parties, while the security forces are locked in an intensifying fight with the Kurdish insurgents across southeastern Turkey.
The move will seriously undermine any prospect for the peaceful resolution of Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish conflict that sapped domestic resources, claimed tens of thousands of lives with shattering consequences for the cities and the local economy in the region.
With the first decree, the government shut down two news agencies, 10 newspapers, and three magazines. Istanbul-based DIHA (Dicle News Agency), Diyarbakir-based JIN news agency, and pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem based in Diyarbakir, Azadiya Welat and other local dailies are among the ones that were closed down in the latest full-scale assault on media.
In addition to sweeping measures against media, the government also dismissed thousands of public officials in a new wave of purge that has been taking place since the abortive coup on July 15. In total 10,158 public servants have been purged. That includes 2,534 personnel from the Justice Ministry and related departments, 2,219 from Education Ministry, 1,267 in Higher Education Council (YOK) and 102 from the Foreign Ministry. So vast the purge is that its far-reaching impact was even felt at Ministry of Agriculture as 172 public officials have been dismissed in various departments of the ministry.
The police department, justice ministry, education ministry and universities are the core of the government purges. Authorities deprived 1,082 police officers who were previously retired of their titles and ranks, a move that means they will be unable to enjoy the benefits of post-retirement services provided by the police department for its retired officer corpses.
The purge also left a profound impact on Diyanet, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, with 249 imams and religious officials joined the wave of mass dismissals.
Not surprisingly, the decrees severely undermined academic life in Turkey, too. 1,267 more academics have been dismissed from universities. Dicle University (99), Pamukkale University (83) and Suleyman Demirel University (73) are the hardest hit academic institutions. What matters more is the new measure that gives President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a tremendous power to appoint presidents of all universities after decrees aborted electoral process at universities to select rectors.
It was the last nail in the coffin that declared the death of academic freedom in a country where thousands of academics suddenly found themselves jobless and economically insecure as the government-led crackdown nearly killed job options for them. At least, 6,400 academics were fired from universities in total since the failed coup attempt in July.
The decrees also suspended the previous ruling for the shutdown of six regional and local newspapers, allowed them to restart publication. Rights of several officers in the military and other departments were also reinstated.
In the eyes of critics and observers of Turkey’s political affairs, the emergency rule measures and decrees paved the way for the establishment of an authoritarian regime with the government centralizing its power over bureaucracy, to the detriment of the rule of law, in outright disregard to the constitutional law. The separation of powers is a dead letter and has no practical relevance anymore, critics lamented on Twitter in their initial reaction to the government action.
The announcement of decrees came on the Republican Day as citizens and people across the country went to streets for a jubilant celebration of the 93rd anniversary of the foundation of the republic. It was something like an insult or a joke to choose the historic day for the declaration of new draconian measures.
The measures represent a major setback for democracy, and everything the republican regime stands for, critics argued. During a reception held in the Parliament to mark the Republican Day in Ankara, President Erdogan renewed his expectation about the reinstatement of the death penalty.
His remarks occupied the front page of the official Anadolu news agency’s post on the website. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, in endorsing fashion, told reporters about the matter that president’s wish reflects people’s desires on the streets.
Yildirim underscored that Parliament cannot ignore demands of the people and his government would seek an accord with other parties in the Parliament to restore the capital punishment. Erdogan promised to sign into law the death penalty, an issue that European leaders say would sink Turkey’s decades-old aspiration for becoming a member of the EU.
The Turkish president, however, appears unconcerned and defiant over the political consequences of such a move.
Another intriguing element in the decrees is the one that regulates rights of detainees and their access to lawyers. The second executive decree even allows prosecutors to bar terror suspects from getting a lawyer for their legal defense for up to six months, a development that could be regarded as a reversal in detainees’ rights in Turkey’s criminal justice system. In another measure, it allows prison officials to record, tape or monitor meetings between lawyers and detainees jailed pending trial on terrorism charges upon demand from prosecutors.