At a time when Turkey is going through one of its most turbulent periods, with the arrest of thousands of people and an ongoing crackdown on opposition figures in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July, the country’s president said Turkey has never enjoyed as much freedom, comfort and peace as it does now.
Speaking to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV on Thursday, Erdoğan dismissed claims of problems regarding freedom of expression in Turkey.
“Such a problem [about freedom of expression] does not exist in my country. Everyone lives, speaks, dresses, eats and drinks the way they want. We have never imposed any ban on anything [concerning these matters]. Turkey has not been a country with bans. In past years, not counting the last 14 years [when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) ruled the country], Turkey has never been a country with as much freedom, peace and comfort as it has now,” said Erdoğan.
His remarks came in the aftermath of operations against an opposition newspaper and opposition party last week.
Turkish courts last Friday arrested nine pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies including the party’s Co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ. The HDP deputies were arrested after they refused to testify about alleged crimes linked to “terrorist propaganda.” One more HDP deputy was arrested on Monday, bringing the total number of arrested HDP deputies to nine.
Last Saturday, Turkey also saw the arrest of nine journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper including the paper’s editor-in-chief.
Both developments sparked harsh criticisms from Europe and the US.
Erdoğan’s remarks also came at a time when thousands of people have been purged from state bodies and thousands of others have been arrested in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July over their alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.
Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Despite Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whose views inspired the movement, and the movement having denied the accusation, Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government launched a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
About 105,000 people have been purged from state bodies, in excess of 80,000 detained and over 36,000 have been arrested since the coup attempt. Arrestees include journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics, governors and even a comedian. Critics argue that lists of Gülen sympathizers were drawn up prior to the coup attempt.