Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped that “if the newspapers of a country are filled with good news, the jails of that country will be filled with good people.” When a government begins prosecuting and imprisoning members of the press on dubious charges, in other words, it is time to worry. Which is why this New York Times report from Turkey–where more members of the media are now in jail than in China–is so disquieting:
A year ago, the journalist Nedim Sener was investigating a murky terrorist network that prosecutors maintain was plotting to overthrow Turkey’s Muslim-inspired government. Today, Mr. Sener stands accused of being part of that plot, jailed in what human rights groups call a political purge of the governing party’s critics…The other defendants include the editors of a staunchly secular Web site critical of the government and Ahmet Sik, a journalist who has written that an Islamic movement associated with Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric living in Pennsylvania, has infiltrated Turkey’s security forces.…Turkish human rights advocates say the crackdown is part of an ominous trend. Most worrying, they say, are fresh signs that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is repressing freedom of the press through a mixture of intimidation, arrests and financial machinations.
This disturbing erosion of freedoms has in fact been happening for some time, though without nearly the press coverage the story deserves. For many westerners and Muslims alike, Turkey has been a much hoped for model of reconciliation between Islam and democracy, but if trends like these continue alongside other alleged human rights violations, that will no longer be the case.For the sake of genuinely democratic governance in Islamic societies, the world needs to watch carefully and speak the truth about what is taking place in Turkey. Longtime Turkish supporters of the AK Party like Mustafa Akyol are increasingly worried about the degree to which the Turkish Islamists are following in the footsteps of their Kemalist predecessors. News of the arrest of the former top general Ilker Basbug on charges of plotting a coup will be received with more skepticism as more and more people worry that the AK Party is abusing the judicial process to entrench its power.Turkey matters and what happens there helps shape wider regional realities. Between growing economic worries and signs that the ruling party can’t keep its own baser instincts in check, those who have welcomed Turkey’s rise now find themselves worrying about its ability to fulfill those high hopes.