The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Turkey’s Islamists Persecuting Journalists?

A report put out by the Committee to Protect Journalists paints a damning picture of Erdogan’s Turkey:

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has waged one of the world’s biggest crackdowns on press freedom in recent history. Authorities have imprisoned journalists on a mass scale on terrorism or anti-state charges, launched thousands of other criminal prosecutions on charges such as denigrating Turkishness or influencing court proceedings, and used pressure tactics to sow self-censorship. Erdoğan has publicly deprecated journalists, urged media outlets to discipline or fire critical staff members, and filed numerous high-profile defamation lawsuits.

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In the 27 years CPJ has compiled records on journalists in prison, only Turkey itself has rivaled the extent of the current anti-press campaign. In 1996, Turkish authorities jailed as many as 78 journalists, CPJ research shows. Today, Turkey’s imprisonments surpass the next most repressive nations, including Iran, Eritrea, and China.

As we wrote this weekend, the AK Party in Turkey is the best the Islamists have on offer—the brightest hope now around for reconciling Islamist power with democracy and tolerance. But if this is the best there is, the situation is bleak. Dark days are coming throughout the Middle East.

The best hope is that pressure inside Turkey, as well as outside pressure generated by damning reports such as this one, may still tip the balance inside the AK Party to those who believe that real freedom is compatible with Islamic ideals. A failure in Turkey would be historic, with consequences that could reverberate for decades across the region and beyond. Unfortunately, at the moment failure seems much more likely than success.

Published on October 22, 2012 12:00 pm