First Published: 2017-01-27

Turkish government silencing opposition ahead of poll says writers group
PEN accuses Erdogan’s government of ‘using state of emergency’ to silence opposition to constitutional change ahead of referendum over expanding his powers.
Middle East Online

Group fears Turkey en route to dictatorship

ISTANBUL - The Turkish government is using a state of emergency to silence opposition ahead of a referendum on constitutional changes to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, writers' group and free speech campaigner PEN said Friday.

The Turkish government imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the botched July 15 coup attempt, which critics say has been used for a massive clampdown on Erdogan's opponents and not merely suspected coup plotters.

"We feel that the government is using the state of emergency to silence the opposition," Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International, said in an interview during a visit to Istanbul.

She warned that the referendum risked lacking legitimacy if the campaign did not enjoy full freedom of speech.

"To do this referendum and the change of the constitution without any opposition or discussion or debate within the country is profoundly anti-democratic," Clement said.

"So if he (Erdogan) wins, it won't be legitimate and if he wins he will be on the road to a real totalitarian dictatorship and this is deeply, deeply worrying."

The parliament last week passed an 18-article constitution package which would create an executive presidency along the lines of France or in the United States.

A simple majority in the popular vote planned in April is needed for the changes to be legalised.

- 'Very urgent' -

During a week long visit, the top level delegation from PEN International met with Turkish officials, including culture minister Nabi Avci, and visited opposition media outlets as well as imprisoned writers.

Clement said PEN International passed on their message to government officials in the talks in the capital Ankara.

"We definitely gave them this message," she said, adding that passing a major change in the country's basic law without any debate means "it is going to fail."

Close to 150 writers and journalists are behind bars in Turkey, making the European Union candidate country the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, surpassing China, Eritrea and Egypt, according to the advocacy group.

Turkish authorities however insist that those detained were not engaged in journalism activity.

John Ralston Saul, president emeritus at PEN International, called the situation "very urgent."

"And all the press organisations that are closed means that we lost -- in one of the most culturally rich countries of the world -- the critical mass of the people that don't agree," he said.

The government dismisses any concerns over free speech and says Turkey has vibrant opposition media.


Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks