The perception of a severe decline in rights and freedoms has been a constant factor among international observers of Turkey in recent years, as seen in a steady stream of reports by reporters, rights groups and lawyers on the country now known as the world’s largest jailer of journalists.
For Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, though, such criticism may as well have come from a parallel universe. Speaking to Judy Woodruff in a filmed interview for the U.S. channel PBS, Çavuşoğlu said that far from restricting citizens’ rights, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has in fact brought them to Turkey.
“(T)here is a freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of journalism in Turkey. And we brought all these freedoms to Turkey,” Çavuşoğlu told Woodruff in response to a question on whether the government was open to criticism from journalists.
“It’s not only criticism, every day they attack me, attack the president,” he said.
Yet Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling party had been dedicated to democratic reform, and their success in this area had been defined abroad as a “silent revolution,” Çavuşoğlu told Woodruff.
On this point, the foreign minister was not mistaken – though the international accolades for the AKP’s record in reforms belong to a previous phase in their 16-year rule, before the large-scale crackdown Woodruff brought up during the interview.
A state of emergency has been in place in Turkey since shortly after a failed coup attempt in July 2016. Under emergency rule, hundreds of thousands have been arrested, stripped of their jobs, or transferred.
The 2018 report by human rights group Freedom House downgraded Turkey to “Not Free” status, and found it to have suffered the furthest decline in freedoms of any country over the last ten years.
With around 90 percent of media outlets owned by pro-government businesses and many critical journalists behind bars, international groups including Reporters Without Borders have condemned the current conditions of press freedom in Turkey.
The interview was true to form for the foreign minister, who has a tendency to flatly contradict tricky questions from foreign reporters, though on this occasion he showed far more restraint than during last week’s interview with Deutsche Welle’s Tim Sebastian.
Çavuşoğlu, on that occasion, appeared as a remarkably hostile interviewee, frequently objecting to and interrupting Sebastian’s questions.