What's behind the arrests in Turkey?

December 15, 2014

Over two dozen people were arrested in raids against media critical of Turkish president. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Over two dozen people were arrested in raids against media critical of Turkish president. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

A wave of arrests Sunday morning shook Turkey and made headline news throughout the world.  The arrests, which are part of a broad campaign against the Gülen Movement, were hardly a surprise.  A twitter user had leaked information about it some days in advance, it was preceded by some typically fire-breathing speeches by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Istanbul Prosecutor’s office issued a press release before the arrests were made.  In total 27 people were arrested, including a number of journalists and media figures.

Along with other human rights organizations, Amnesty has called on Turkish authorities to release those arrested yesterday unless authorities can produce “credible evidence that they have committed a recognizably criminal offense.”

Amnesty went on to note that the arrests were troubling at a number of levels:

Yesterday’s arrests of senior journalists in a section of the media that has played a leading role in covering allegations of corruption by government officials, raise serious questions about the authorities’ motivation for their detention.

The Turkish authorities have a track record of using the broadly phrased anti-terrorism legislation, under which these arrests were made, to target political opponents and there is good reason to believe that is what is happening here.

The statement concluded by noting that Turkey’s abuse of these anti-terrorism statutes “has contributed significantly to Turkey’s woeful record of criminalizing dissent, violating the right to freedom of expression.”

Signs in Turkey are worrying.  The rhetoric from the government has become increasingly belligerent.  Meanwhile, legislation aimed at increasing political control of the courts and bureaucracy have been coupled with extensions of police powers.   Last week, newspapers reported that the lawyer of a man charged with insulting Mr. Erdoğan is himself being targeted for investigation. Tomorrow, December 17, members of a fan club devoted to a popular soccer team will stand trial under anti-terror statutes for their role in the Gezi protests which shook Turkey in June, 2013 (representatives from Amnesty will be observing the trial).

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has learned that Turkey is purchasing some 1.9 million tear gas canisters and gas grenades from South KoreaGiven Turkey’s awful record of abusing such weapons, Amnesty has called on South Korea (and other major suppliers of such equipment, including the United States and Brazil) to suspend shipment. Still, the sheer scale of the purchase boggles the mind.  Like the arrests Sunday, it suggests that Turkey’s attacks on freedom of expression and assembly are not likely to end soon.

In Turkey, the war on dissent rages on.