Erdoğan authoritarianism reaching new heights, former Pentagon official says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has fallen on difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic, but true to form he has responded by intensifying his government’s authoritarian practices and cracking down on dissent, said analyst and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin in the Washington Examiner.

Despite recording its first coronavirus infection weeks after its neighbours, Turkey rapidly became one of the countries with the most cases in the world. The economic impact of the virus has left millions of jobs under threat and the government’s coffers under severe strain.

“It has been a bad month for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and so, as has been the pattern in Turkey for the past 17 years, it has been an even worse month for those Turkey’s mercurial ruler wishes to scapegoat,” Rubin said.

That means critical journalists and press outlets have been targeted for minor issues like mis-identifying a professor of infectious diseases as a professor of public health, or criticising the head of the state religious institution for defining people who die after contracting the virus as martyrs, he said.

Journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper are also facing legal action for exposing illegal construction on Erdoğan’s communications chief’s property.

But Erdoğan’s “malevolence” has extended beyond the country’s working press to political prisoners, who have been excluded from an early release programme that will see nearly one third of the prison population freed, and who will thus see out the pandemic in still overcrowded prisons, Rubin said.

Meanwhile, the president has also been blocking opposition municipalities’ attempts to provide relief to their pandemic-stricken constituents, saying that all aid efforts must go through the central government.

But police have turned a blind eye to the ruling party’s charity activities as they shut down those launched by the opposition, Rubin said.