The latest report by Freedom House published on Tuesday, says that the level of freedom in society in Turkey has declined the most out of any country in the past ten years.
“Turkey’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free … due to a deeply flawed constitutional referendum that centralised power in the presidency, the mass replacement of elected mayors with government appointees, arbitrary prosecutions of rights activists and other perceived enemies of the state, and continued purges of state employees, all of which have left citizens hesitant to express their views on sensitive topics,” Freedom House wrote.
The report said that in the initial years of government by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey saw a marked improvement in its Freedom House scores. Although the country never achieved a rating of Free (a rating of 2.5 or lower), it was “once-promising”, in Freedom House terms.
The organisation said that 2017 had been a continuation of 12 years of democratic decline for the world on aggregate, but even in these adverse times, Turkey had still regressed in terms of freedom more than any other country on earth over the past decade.
Freedom House said Turkey’s freedoms had been in sharp decline since 2014, but that measures taken after the 2016 failed coup attempt had been particularly harsh.
“Using emergency powers and vaguely worded terrorism laws, the authorities had suspended or dismissed more than 110,000 people from public-sector positions and arrested more than 60,000 others by year’s end,” Freedom House said.
“Extensive use of pre-trial detention meant that many suspects were held behind bars for long periods without due process. There was increasing evidence of extrajudicial ‘disappearances’ and routine torture of political detainees.”
These punishments were also aimed at opponents of the government in civil society, the report said.
“In the context of a wider purge of the leadership’s perceived enemies, authorities initiated prosecutions of key figures in Turkey’s non-governmental organisation sector. The fear of arbitrary arrest stifled public discussion and weakened civil society.”
The group also expressed concern about the authoritarian nature of the presidential system due to be implemented from 2019 onwards.
“The changes will radically increase the power of the presidency and reduce democratic checks and balances,” it said.
“The referendum (on the presidential system) was conducted on a manifestly unequal playing field, particularly in light of the ongoing state of emergency and related restrictions on the media, the opposition, and civil society.”
Turkey has been considered Not Free in Freedom House’s media freedom index since 2014 and Not Free in its freedom on the net index since 2016, meaning it is now in the lowest category for every freedom category the group measures.