Turkey: President Erdoğan is Using COVID to Clampdown on Dissent
Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government has always made use of crises to consolidate its power.
Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has . The coronavirus has been no exception. The regime has cracked down on opposition and attempted to undermine its effectiveness, while endeavouring to legitimise the rule of the long-serving president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Since the AKP was re-elected in 2007, there have been continuous crackdowns on Erdoğan’s opponents, which after a 2016 coup attempt. The coronavirus crisis has now provided the regime with a new angle with which to justify repression.
Social Media Crackdown
During the pandemic, one of the regime’s strategies has been furthering social media crackdowns on opponents. This has been made possible with the pretext of existing which allow the government to investigate someone for creating “panic and fear”, provoking people to “disobey the law”, or provoking the public to “hatred and hostility”.
Since the start of the pandemic, – most commonly for criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic on social media.
Those targeted are from different backgrounds – ranging from to and . According to Amnesty International, lorry driver Malik Yilmaz was (although later released) for sharing a video in which he declared: “This virus won’t kill me, what will kill me is your system.” Meanwhile, news anchor Fatih Portakal for posting a tweet about coronavirus economic policies.
Social media platforms remain one of the few outlets in Turkey where people are able to voice their criticism, as the major print and broadcast media are . Even before the pandemic, there were by the government to curb criticism on social media – mainly through intimidation.
In 2018 and 2019, social media accounts were investigated by the Ministry of Interior in an attempt to encourage self-censorship. Although this has been , a vast amount of criticism still circulates on social media.
In April, a draft law on economic measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis included articles aimed at increasing the regime’s control over social media platforms. Although the articles were , the regime did not abandon the idea of having a tighter grip over social media.
In early July, Erdoğan he wants “social media platforms completely shut down or controlled” as they “don’t suit this country and our people”.
On July 21, the government submitted to parliament aimed at increasing State control over social media. If passed, social media companies would be obliged to have representatives in Turkey and respond within 48 hours to requests to remove “offensive” content.
Undermining the Opposition
Turkey has the world’s 15th highest number of at around 221,500, with more than 5,500 deaths. Although the rate of infection slowed down after a peak in April, the virus has been widespread with all of Turkey’s reporting cases.
The AKP seems keen to claim sole credit for managing Turkey’s response to the crisis. A on several municipal donation campaigns run by the opposition, stopping activists launching independent crisis relief schemes. The regime that these campaigns needed prior approval by the central government, while turning a blind eye to .
The aid prevention policy appears to be an attempt to undermine the opposition, particularly in municipalities such as Istanbul which came under the control of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in . Istanbul’s new mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is seen as a serious threat to Erdoğan. He continued to organise aid campaigns in Istanbul despite the ban, and now faces an by the Interior Ministry. Nonetheless, the AKP’s efforts seem to have backfired, and İmamoğlu’s popularity has been according to recent polls.
The pandemic has allowed Erdoğan to improve Turkey’s battered international reputation and shore up the legitimacy of his regime abroad. The government’s widespread distribution of humanitarian aid, despite the , has allowed the regime to with the US and Europe.
The country has to shore up its position in the Balkans and improved its relations with regional adversaries. These actions gain Turkey much-needed allies, softening international criticism of Erdoğan’s military interventions in Syria and Libya.
Domestically, Erdoğan’s government is trying to cloak itself in a humanitarian guise following repressive actions towards its opponents, and so shore up its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. By doing this Erdoğan is taking a page from the playbook of authoritarians the world over by seeking to manage his image as a benign ruler.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.