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Erdoğan’s iron fist: Turkey since failed 2016 coup

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As Turkey jails 32 former soldiers in the last mass trial stemming from the failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we look back on the crackdown that has followed.

Post-coup purges

Some 250 people die resisting an attempted military coup on July 15, 2016 against Erdoğan by a renegade military faction that included air strikes on the parliament building in Ankara.

On July 16-17 hundreds of generals, judges and prosecutors are arrested.

Erdoğan blames the putsch on exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned arch-foe, and demands his extradition from the United States.

The purges widen to include the police, the education system, trade unions and the media, including anyone suspected of links to Gülen.

Since then around 96,000 people have been arrested and over 140,000 sacked or suspended from jobs in the public sector and universities.

More than 3,000 have been jailed for life in “super trials” across the country.

‘Traitors’ warned 

Turkey marks the first anniversary of the coup with mass rallies, with July 15 declared an annual national holiday.

Erdoğan says he is thinking of reintroducing capital punishment and will “chop off the heads” of traitors.

In August 2017 nearly 500 people appear in court near Ankara in the biggest trial yet of suspects from the failed coup.

Top military leaders are replaced.

‘One-man rule’ 

Erdoğan gets sweeping new powers after Turks narrowly approve in an April 2017 referendum the creation of an executive presidency which critics say will lead to “one-man rule.”

The post of prime minister is abolished and Erdogan can hire and fire ministers.

All-powerful president

Erdoğan wins the first new-look presidential election in June 2018, with his Islamist-rooted AKP party holding its overall majority in parliamentary elections the same day with help from ultranationalist allies.

He appoints his son-in-law Berat Albayrak as finance minister.

Erdoğan calls jailed reporters “terrorists” after Turkey again tops the list of countries with the most reporters behind bars.

İstanbul lost 

While the AKP wins most votes nationwide in the March 2019 local elections, it loses control of the capital Ankara and of İstanbul, the country’s powerhouse.

Erdoğan claims irregularities in the counting and the results are annulled.

But opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu wins again in a June re-run in Istanbul — where Erdoğan was once mayor — with a much bigger margin than in the first election.

Erdoğan’s ‘night watchmen’ 

In June 2020 a controversial law grants police-like powers to the neighborhood “night watchmen” patrols, leading critics to accuse the president of trying to build a loyal militia.

Weeks later lawyers protest against a government plan to shake up the bar associations, which they say is aimed at silencing dissent and politicizing their profession.

Social media muzzle 

On July 29 Turkey cracks down on social media with a controversial law that human rights groups warn could lead to censorship.

Erdoğan had previously threatened to “wipe out” social media. Earlier in July he attacked users who insulted Albayrak and his wife Esra, the president’s daughter, after the birth of their fourth child.

With the lira plunging, the unpopular but powerful Albayrak leaves the government in mysterious circumstances on November 8.

Civil society hit

A month later the Constitutional Court rules that the three-year detention without a conviction of philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala is legal.

His incarceration, like that of the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP Selahattin Demirtaş — behind bars since 2016 — is seen as a symbol of Turkey’s slide into repression.

With many of the party’s MPs and mayors already removed from office or jailed, prosecutors are now trying to ban the party outright.

Super trials

In what is being billed as the last of the super trials in the capital Ankara, 32 former soldiers are jailed for life on Wednesday, five months after more than 330 former pilots and other suspects got similar sentences for their part in the coup.

Smaller trials elsewhere are still under way.


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