Turkey has been ranked as "partially free" with a deteriorating outlook, according to the latest edition of Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World report. Turkey received a downward trend arrow because of renewed violence between the government and Kurdish militants, terrorist attacks by the Islamic State group, and intense harassment of opposition members and media outlets by the government and its supporters ahead of the November parliamentary elections.
The report noted that dozens of journalists were arrested and prosecuted for insulting the president and other government officials or for allegedly supporting terrorist organisations throughout the year, while numerous websites were also blocked.
Freedom House highlighted corruption as a major problem for Turkey. “In 2015, Turkey was still dealing with the effects of a 2013–14 scandal in which leaked audiotapes pointed to possible corruption among senior politicians, including [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and his family,” said the report.
Turkey fell two spots to 66th place among 168 nations on Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception Index, which was also released on January 27. Turkey was one of the biggest decliners in the index, falling 3 points and dropping two positions, the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International said.
The Turkish authorities failed to properly investigate corruption allegations in 2013 that targeted Erdogan’s inner circle, leading to the resignations of four ministers of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Erdogan dismissed the corruption investigations as a coup attempt to topple him and an international plot against Turkey.
There were some irregularities with respect to the electoral process, according to Freedom House. “Erdogan campaigned for the AKP in the June elections, which domestic and international observers said violated the president’s nonpartisan status under both precedent and law.”
The report noted that dozens of intellectuals and journalists have been jailed in recent years, particularly on terrorism charges. Government harassment of journalists is also common, leading to self-censorship and dismissals, said the report. “Academic freedom is limited by self-censorship and legal or political pressure regarding sensitive topics, including contemporary political developments.”
Turkey is one of the world's top jailers of journalists, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, and is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Freedom Index, down from its 98th place (out of 161 countries) in 2006.
The EU and Washington are increasingly concerned about freedom of expression in Turkey. During a visit to Turkey earlier in January, US Vice President Joe Biden openly criticised the government for failing to protect fundamental freedoms. "When the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that's not the kind of example that needs to be set," Biden told a group of civil society representatives at a meeting in Istanbul on January 22.
Top EU officials also recently chided the Turkish government over freedom of expression. “Let me be clear on that. We want to move ahead step by step based on these shared fundamental principles underpinning our relations including, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, independent judiciary,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said after a meeting with Turkish ministers in Ankara on January 25. “These are not details. These are indeed for us fundamental and indispensable areas and issues.”
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