The TV and press coverage were shocking, Turkish police force through steel gates with bolt-cutters, frightened demonstrators cower under a barrage of tear gas and water cannons. A wounded women staggers away from the crowd helped by onlooking journalists. However this wasn’t the breaking of a siege or closing down some extensive criminal enterprise, but merely the Turkish Government closing down a newspaper which had dared to voice it’s opposition.
This is now how Turkey deals with dissent, free speech is a term subject to the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.
Turkey has long been treading down this path, it has fallen steadily down the league table of Press Freedom and now sits among the likes of Russia and Iraq where dissent is simply not allowed among the press. The newspaper is called Zaman and is the most popular daily newspaper in Turkey.
It is the latest in a long line of journalist casualties – hundreds are currently under prosecution, many independent broadcasters have been take off air or prosecuted on spurious charges. The common ‘excuse’ is in the ‘national interest’ or to fight terrorism however the reality is that if you disagree with the government then you’d better not say it aloud.
Turkey is supposedly a democracy but it’s actions are beginning to mirror something quite different. At the moment Turkish authorities are pursuing an aim of quicker integration into the European Union whilst simultaneously ignoring the building blocks of any democratic system. This is not restricted to the persecution of dissenting journalists, there is a lack of freedom in other areas too.
The internet has long been seen as a problem for the Turkish government and it has actively been trying to control access from within the country. It is considered almost essential to use a fast VPN to gain access to many legitimate news sites via a Turkish controlled ISP. This allows internet users to bypass IP blocks on specific sites which have been blacklisted by the Turkish Government , the list was established some years ago but has been growing exponentially over the last few years as dissent in the country grows. If Turkey is admitted to the European Union in exchange for it’s help in the immigration crisis it would ironically be the first member where you need to buy VPN services in order to allow unfettered access to the internet, just like you needed to do in Syria and Afghanistan.