Turkey downgraded to Not Free in 2018 Freedom House report

Turkey was downgraded to Not Free from Partly Free in the 2018 Freedom House report published Tuesday, marking the furthest decline in freedoms of any country over the past decade according to the group’s methodology.

“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.

It reduced Turkey’s political rating from four to five on a seven-notch scale with one being most free and seven being least free, and reduced Turkey’s civil society rating from five to six on the same scale. Its total freedom score was also reduced from 38 to 32 on a scale of 0–100, placing it 138th out of 195 territories and countries surveyed.

Freedom House

In the initial years of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, 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’s term.

The group said that 2017 had been a continuation of 12 years of democratic decline for the world on aggregate, but even at this bad time, Turkey had still regressed in terms of freedom more than any other country on earth over the past decade.

Freedom House

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.