The world has been watching the Turkish protests with interest over the last two weeks, as a country which many saw as a possible model for post-Arab Spring democracies crush peaceful protests with violence. However, it is the arrests of lawyers, journalists, and doctors who were helping protesters or uncovering police brutality that best demonstrate Prime Minister Erdogan’s authoritarian roots.
The international press have been showing images of peaceful protesters being knocked off their feet by high pressure water cannons and the clouds of tear gas over Taksim Square for the last two weeks. However, it is the ease with which Erdogan’s government managed to censor the national Turkish press, announce the possibility of using the army to quell further protest, and arrest journalists, lawyers, and doctors for helping the protesters, that really demonstrates its darker authoritarian tendencies.
Even before the recent outbreak of protests, Reporters Without Borders called Turkey the “world’s biggest prison for journalists” with 72 media personnel imprisoned. The current protests are only pushing that number higher, as the AKP government attempts to stem to flow of information about widespread discontent with their rule across the country. They have even forced Hayat TV offline, for what the editor believes to be their coverage of the protests in Taksim Square and Gezi Park, a news story that was oddly left out of most Turkish national news coverage.
Last week the government rounded up and arrested 73 lawyers who were protesting at the Istanbul courthouse over the treatment of protesters and the lack of legal due process in their arrests. This is in addition to the 32 lawyers previously jailed for alleged representing groups that Erdogan’s government deemed “extremist”, who are still awaiting trial. The arrest of lawyers for the actions of their clients, however distasteful, is an assault on the rule of law where everyone should be awarded a fair trial. With lawyers fearing jail for working with protesters, many of those arrested for taking part in the peaceful protests over the last two weeks, now may not be able to put together a proper legal defence.
Now it appears that the Turkish government are going after doctors that helped injured protesters both in hospitals and the make-shift field-hospitals set up in hotel lobbies around Taksim Square to treat the 7,500 injured in the protests. Turkish Medical Association (TBB) reported that the Turkish Health Ministry demanded a list of all doctors who had treated injured demonstrators, although the TBB has failed to co-operate with the demand. Nevertheless, during the protests a number of volunteer doctors wearing white coats were arrested on the spot in the makeshift field hospitals as they treated protesters with problems breathing after inhaling tear gas, or injuries from rubber bullets. Doctors from around Istanbul went on strike to protest against the arrest of their colleagues
With journalists, lawyers, and doctors facing prison for helping peaceful protesters, any semblance of a liberal democracy is rapidly evaporating and being replaced by worrying authoritarianism in the country in which the east meets the west.