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Freedom House "Freedom in the World 2022": Turkey


Compared to 2020, Turkey did not improve their freedom score, a 32/100, and is still deemed “not free” by Freedom House. In 2021, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed political allies as the heads of Bogaziçi University, which was met by student protests that lasted months. Erdogan also shut down opposition political parties and withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that pledges to fight gender-based violence. Additionally, Osman Kavala, a political prisoner whose release has been ordered by the ECtHR, continues to be held without due process.


Electoral Process—The state of the electoral process in Turkey has been greatly impacted by a 2017 constitutional amendment that removed the position of prime minister, thereby consolidating power in the hands of the President. Snap elections were held in 2018 in a state of emergency after a coup attempt. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) “found that the 2018 elections were marred by the AKP’s misuse of state resources to gain an electoral advantage as well as an intimidation campaign against opposition parties” (Freedom House 2022).


Political Pluralism and Participation—It remains challenging to start a new political party in because of an unusually high voting threshold –10 percent—and Turkey’s Constitutional Court historically has barred certain ethnic and religious groups from forming parties. The HDP, the second-largest opposition party in Turkey, faces significant judicial, bureaucratic, and political roadblocks to its success: “President Erdogan and the ruling AKP assert partisan control of the YSK, judiciary, police, and media.” Additionally, marginalized groups such as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, women, and religious minorities remain underrepresented in politics.


Functioning of Government—President Erdogan has control over the legislature because his political party, the AKP, has the majority rule. He also abuses his powers of the presidential decree, and uses them to “frequently intervene against ministries and independent bodies that defy his wishes.” Corruption is allowed to persist because of inconsistent enforcement of anti-corruption laws and the inefficiency of anticorruption agencies. Turkey scored a 0/4 for openness and transparency within government function: its “political and legal environment has made democratic oversight nearly impossible.”


Freedom of Expression and Belief—The Turkish media is largely owned by Erdogan supporters or close friends. Independent outlets “face tremendous political pressure and are routinely targeted for persecution.” The government censors and blocks content that does not agree with the President or that is critical of the regime. Religious freedom is also reserved for Sunni Muslims, and Alevi and other non-Muslim groups do not have the same rights or recognition as the dominant religion. The government monitors social media accounts and citizens have very low levels of freedom of expression when it comes to what they say publicly, especially when it regards criticism of Erdogan and his government. Also, since 2016 there has been a sharp decline in academic freedom, and professors are routinely fired and replaced with Erdogan-approved leaders.


Associational and Organizational Rights—Police have an active and often violent role in breaking up peaceful protests. NGOs and their leaders, “especially those focused on human rights—face harassment, arrests, and prosecutions simply for carrying out their activities.” Trials conducted by the partisan and very politicized judiciary are often used as intimidation tactics against civil societies and those wishing to organize. Unions have almost no footing, and if they do their leaders face arrest, and their success is blocked by business owners and government officials alike.


Rule of Law—Government loyalists routinely replace judges and government officials, making it nearly impossible for a judicial body to rule in favor of positions critical of the government. This results in judicial decisions that are politically motivated and favor the wishes of Erdogan and his supporters. Due process is acutely violated, especially for political prisoners. Detained prisoners are subject to abuse and torture. “Although Turkish law guarantees equal treatment of all citizens, religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities suffer varying degrees of discrimination. Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, leaving women defenseless and unsupported against sexual and gender-based violence. Public officials, including Erdogan, have, in many instances, publicly used hate speech against the LGBTQIA+ community.


Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights—It has remained difficult for people to geographically move or find employment due to fighting between the government and the PKK in 2015 and after the attempted coup in 2016. Child marriage is common, with Syrian refugees being the main target for them. Turkey has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, perpetrators regularly go unchecked, and the government does not provide sufficient aid to victims and their families. Gender-based violence and femicides were at very high levels in 2021. Exploitive working conditions are the norm, and refugees are often the most susceptible to predatory and degrading employment conditions.


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