Turkey’s The Daily Hürriyet reported earlier this month that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) proposed a set of changes to the Constitution Conciliation Council that would severely limit freedom of the press. The changes would allow the government to restrict press freedom on the grounds of violating what it called “national security” and “public morality.”
Turkey is certainly not the first country to infringe upon personal freedoms for the sake of preserving national security. Americans and Europeans have sacrificed privacy in the name of national security for more than a decade.
Furthermore, Turkey already leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to freedom of expression. For instance, Article 301 of the Turkish penal code outlaws “insulting Turkishness.” The government applies the law loosely, especially when writers discuss the sensitive issue of the Armenian genocide. While the AKP has made some significant improvements in the area of human rights, freedom of the press has remained limited at best.
In its World Press Freedom Index for 2011-2012, Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 148th – the second-lowest among European countries and down ten places from last year. In January, there were reportedly 97 journalists jailed in Turkey. That number exceeds the amount of journalists imprisoned in China.
So although the latest proposed changes are not shocking, it is puzzling that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to lead the country in this direction. Turkey has recently been noticed for its explosion of soft power. Turkey’s geography makes it a desirable ally for many in trade, defense, and diplomacy.
In addition, a key source of Turkish soft power is its combination of a Muslim population and a democratic government. It helps the West move past its lingering skepticism of Islam. And shows the East that democracy doesn’t have to replace culture or religion. That sounds nice and all, but with every crackdown on journalism Turkey looks less and less like a democracy. If Turkey continues to move in the wrong direction on the issue of press freedom, the world will view Ankara with the same suspicion that it views Moscow and Beijing.
(The photo is from the World Economic Forum via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)