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Apr 03 2019

U.S. must address Turkey's descent towards authoritarianism – The Hill

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should have Turkey’s sharp descent towards authoritarianism since the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016 on the top of his agenda in Washington when he meets his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Wednesday, wrote Sarah H. Cleveland in an analysis for U.S. newspaper The Hill.

The pair will have plenty to talk about, such as Syria and the Middle East, Turkey’s plans to buy Russian S-400 air-defence missiles, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the European refugee crisis, among others, but, the article said, Turkey’s deteriorating democracy should take precedence.

Since 2016, “over 150,000 public officials have been sacked for alleged coup links, with courts jailing over 64,000 others on terrorism charges. Over 150 journalists and media workers, as well as nine parliamentarians of the pro-Kurdish opposition party are behind bars,” the article said.

Turkey has now joined states such as Poland and Hungary in a state-led assault on judicial independence, civil society, media and human rights, it said.

At the core of this assault is the March 4 indictment of 16 leading civil society activists on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government, or partially or wholly preventing its functions” during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, The Hill said.

The 16 civil society leaders, including businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, are facing life sentences on charges of involvement in the protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations against Erdoğan since he came to power in 2003. More than 20 people were killed and thousands injured as police crushed the protests.

Human Rights Watch said of the indictment, there was “an acute lack of specificity to the allegations it contains.''

Turkey’s use of “overbroad and vague terrorism offences” to silence activists and government critics has been condemned by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the International Commission of Jurists, the article said, stressing that there was still time for Turkey to turn back from this path.