Dark humour marks Turkey’s crackdown on dissent - analyst

Turkish opposition parties have criticised the former prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, for refusing to resign as speaker of parliament while standing in the March 31 election for mayor of Istanbul, saying the constitution bans the holder of the post from engaging in political activity.

“Elections are not political activity,” Yıldırım said in response.

Not all the anomalies of Turkish politics today are so entertaining, reported U.S. think tank Gatestone Institute.

“A journalist recently uncovered the true story behind what millions of Turks mistakenly thought was just a joke,” Burak Bekdil, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, wrote for Gatestone on Sunday.

“An academic, Mehmet Altan, detained on charges of ‘giving subliminal messages for a coup,’ asked a guard if he could borrow a book written by his brother, Ahmet. ‘We don't have that book,’ said the guard, ‘but the author is here,’” said Bekdil.

As of Oct. 31, 239 Turkish journalists were under detention or in jail, according to Bekdil. Human Rights Watch counts more than 175 journalists and media workers imprisoned in Turkey. Since the July 2016 coup attempt, more than 175 news outlets have been shuttered, putting some 12,000 journalists out of work.

At least 29 publishing houses have been shut down, while tens of thousands of books have been confiscated and destroyed, said Bekdil. Thousands of libraries have banished books banned by the government, and bookstores visited by the police have removed unwanted titles from their shelves.

In January, Turkish authorities invented a new crime, when they charged journalist Esra Solin Dal with "being a member of a terrorist organisation" and "doing journalism against the state", said Bekdil.

Dal, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency, had been arrested in October with 141 people in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır. She was later released, but authorities launched an investigation and a court in Diyarbakır accepted the indictment.

In December, Fatih Portakal, a prominent presenter with Fox News Turkey, called on viewers to “have a peaceful protest”.  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticised Portakal, then a prosecutor launched an investigation into the presenter on charges of "openly inciting others to commit a crime".

The courts have targeted a wide range of government critics. Turkish actor Levent Üzümcü, who took part in the nationwide Gezi protests of 2013, said his theatrical production was cancelled due to political pressure by the authorities.

HSBC Turkey's Chief Executive Officer Selim Kervancı is charged with insulting Erdoğan for a retweeting a clip from the 2004 German film “Downfall” during the Gezi protests. The senior Turkish official at one of the world's biggest banks is among the highest-profile figures targeted in the government's crackdown on dissent, said Bekdil.

But there are others. Last month, Erdoğan called American entrepreneur George Soros the “famous Hungarian Jew” and accused him of working with Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala to conspire against his government.

Kavala was arrested in October 2017 and has remained in jail since then, but no indictment has been issued against him. Now that Erdoğan has linked him with Soros, proving Kavala’s innocence may not be easy, said Bekdil.