Turkey Moves to Silence Dissenters, but With One Eye on Its Image Abroad

Demonstrators waved Turkish flags and shouted slogans in Gezi Park in Istanbul in June, as protests were spreading. Aris Messinis Agence France-Presse Getty Images

15th Nov 2013 – By im Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu  Published: November 14, 2013

Late one night last summer, at the height of antigovernment demonstrations sweeping Turkey, a group of protest leaders rushed to the home of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, the capital, to  negotiate a solution to the growing crisis.

They came away with a tentative agreement, but it was  never accepted by the rank-and-file protesters, and  so the movement was later crushed by the water cannons  and tear gas of Mr. Erdogan’s police force.

Then last month, one of those leaders, Eyup Muhcu, was  summoned by a local prosecutor and interrogated as part  of a spreading investigation of those who led the protests. “There is no concrete charge, yet we were called in to give official statements,” said Mr. Muhcu, an architect and a member of the Taksim Solidarity Platform, a group of activists that played a central role in the demonstrations. “For what?” For the government, the answer seems clear, Mr. Muhcu said: to silence the opposition.“It has come to a point where members can’t even tweet without fear of being investigated for their thoughts,” said Mr. Muhcu, one of the few activists still willing to offer a public critique of the government. As the memory begins to fade of those sweeping protests, which began to save Gezi Park in central Istanbul from being razed and became the most serious challenge to Mr. Erdogan’s decade in power, the government has moved aggressively against its perceived adversaries. More than a thousand students, teachers, doctors and activists — even mosque imams — have been hauled in for questioning for their role in the civic unrest. Dozens of journalists have lost their jobs for reporting on the demonstrations, and one of Turkey’s wealthiest families now has an army of tax inspectors digging through its accounts, apparently for giving refuge in a fancy hotel it owns to demonstrators escaping clouds of tear gas last summer. But in a country with a long history of military coups, police brutality, torture and disappearances, many Turks and outside experts said they were actually expecting a more brutal crackdown after the protests. They note that while many people have been questioned for their participation, comparatively few have been charged with crimes, although a prosecutor in Ankara has threatened to charge nearly 500 people in a single court case.

“It is not a witch hunt, but definitely the government has tightened the screws,” said Saban Kardas, a professor at the University of Economics and Technology in Ankara. “It’s a preventive move, so these protests don’t happen again.”

Continues: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/world/europe/turkey-moves-to-silence-dissenters-but-with-one-eye-on-its-image-abroad.html

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