Freedom House: Turkey Faces Sharpest Decline In Freedoms in 2016

A protestor waves the Turkish flag from a roof top at Taksim square on June 3, 2013 in Istanbul.

Turkey’s downward trend regarding shrinking of freedom and rights has taken an accelerated pace since July coup attempt, which prompted mass arrests and purge of government non-loyalists, a report by Freedom House revealed in a riveting account of rise of nationalist and populist forces around the world last year. 

Washington-based Freedom House came up with a bleak assessment of 2016 when dynamics of populism pervaded political realm all across the world, which was shattered by the election of Donald J. Trump in U.S. presidential elections and unprecedented Brexit that paved the way breakup of the U.K. from the European Union. 

“In 2016, populist and nationalist political forces made astonishing gains in democratic sates, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, and grave atrocities went unanswered in war zones across two continents,” the Freedom House report said.  Called as ‘Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy,’ the report chronicled the weakening of democracy in developed countries as well as semi-democratic states.

The political implications of emergency rule in the aftermath of the coup, and concerted campaign to clamp down on opponents and critical media elevated Turkey into a notorious status as it faced the largest decline in terms of freedoms in the whole world in 2016. 

The report listed Turkey among Partly Free countries with 4.5 Freedom Rating and 38 out of 100 in aggregate score.

“Turkey’s political rights rating declined from 3 to 4, its civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5, and it received a downward trend arrow due to the security and political repercussions of an attempted coup in July, which led the government to declare a state of emergency and carry out mass arrests and firings of civil servants, academics, journalists, opposition figures, and other perceived enemies,” the report said in offering a rationale behind downgrading Turkey’s outlook. 

Turkey has also appeared worst second country that experienced dramatic declines in freedom in an aggregate score sheet that measures the declines observed in every region over the past 10 years. Turkey comes second after Central African Republic with – 28 score in Largest 10-Year Score Declines. 

In Press Freedom and Net Freedom status, the report listed Turkey as not free. The government’s crackdown on press had well begun before the coup attempt, was in the making for years. But In 2016, months before the coup the assault on press had become full-fledged with the takeover of the opposition Zaman daily, which had the largest circulation in the country before government seizure, the report noted. 

Of all factors, the fallout from the protracted war in Syria emerges as a crucial factor that took a toll not only on democracies of neighboring countries, but also on Europe and the United States, according to the report.

“The enormous refugee flows and IS-inspired terrorism generated by the Syrian conflict have played an important role in the wearing of democratic standards in Europe and the United States,” Freedom House said.  Although numbers of arrivals in Europe significantly reduced in 2016, it failed to “stem anti-refugee rhetoric, as European political leaders routinely smeared those fleeing conflict zones as criminals rapists and terrorists.”

For Turkey, the July coup attempt and the government’s subsequent handling of the post-coup era represents a low-water mark for its democracy. During the state of emergency, the government jailed more than 40,000 citizens, detained more than 100,000 and dismissed more than 135,000 public servants in the largest purge campaign in republican history. 

During the emergency rule, the government trampled on media freedom, imprisoning more than 150 journalists, shutting down 149 media outlets in a consistent effort to muzzle any critical voice. Hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been shut down, hundreds of officials from pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), including its co-leaders, have been placed behind bars.

What started as a promising liberalizing force to expand liberties and democratize political landscape, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government later rolled back its initial reforms on freedoms over the past five years. Minority rights, free expression, associational rights, corruption and the rule of law are among the major problems that cause the decline in freedom and democracy, the report noted. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s bid for executive presidency generated ensuing fears over amassing all powers at one man’s hands. 

“The troubling impression created by the year’s headline events is supported by the latest findings of Freedom in the World,” Freedom House said. “A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.”

What made last year different from previous years is the fact that most of the declines took place in established democracies, the report concluded. 

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