Thursday, 3 March 2016

Neither Respect Nor Obey

Turkey's president is married to power, but his relationship to the rule of law is on the rocks.

I would prefer to write nice things about Turkey. Stuff about the unbelievably delicious food. Articles on the amazing places. Long delighted paeans to its history and its cultures. Instead, I have to write once again about Mr Erdogan.

The title of this piece refers to his latest little tantrum. The president has never liked journalists much. OK, so that's probably true of most politicians. However, he really doesn't like them. Really. Turkey has an unenviable record for arresting and imprisoning journos, and incidents of firebombing media outlets and murder are not exactly rare. It seems that Mr Erdogan has an animus towards anyone who even mildly criticizes him, his family, his party or his business interests. As for actually revealing the truth, heaven forbid.

That's what two journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, did. They exposed the fact that the Turkish Secret Service, MIT, has been smuggling weapons to Syrian rebel groups (primarily, it is suspected, ISIS) via trucks. People in power, it has to be said, were not best pleased. The duo were imprisoned on a charge of espionage, and face a life sentence.

However, in a rare example of judicial independence, they were released from pre-trial custody by the High Court, who ruled that their rights had been violated. This prompted Mr Erdogan's screaming hissy fit, when he said 'I don't obey or respect the decision'.

When the president of a country holds its own laws in contempt, what hope is there? Erdogan, for such a high-profile figure, has a remarkably thin skin - since August 2014, some 1845 court cases have been opened against individuals for insulting the president. Those accused have included journalists, doctors, lawyers, academics - and 13-year-old schoolboys. In one case, a man presented as evidence a video of his wife, in which she repeatedly insults the president despite his increasingly heated injunctions to desist.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, she is now apparently seeking a divorce.

Like that soon to be ex-wife, it seems that Mr Erdogan wants to get rid of his relationship to law and justice - or at least that which applies to him.

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