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Turkey remains ‘not free’ in 2023 Freedom House report

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Turkey remains in the “not free” category in the “Freedom in the World 2023” report released Thursday by the Washington-based Freedom House.

Turkey is rated “not free” with a score of 32/100, in the same category as Russia, China and Iran, according to the annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties.

“In Turkey, a failed 2016 coup attempt has cast a long shadow over political rights and civil liberties. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) used the incident to justify the removal of key democratic checks and balances and the elimination of political rivals,” the report said.

“This process continued in 2022, as Turkey prepared for a pivotal presidential election in the first half of 2023. Ahead of the vote, the government adopted a new law to control the selection of judges who will review challenges to election results, and approved a ‘disinformation’ law that could further stifle opposition campaigns and independent media,” it added.

The disinformation law, which was approved in parliament and signed by President Erdoğan in October, has attracted widespread criticism from rights groups and the opposition on accusations it will further cripple free speech in Turkey.

The law makes “disseminating false information” a criminal offense, with prison sentences of between one and three years. If a person conceals their identity while spreading misinformation, those sentences can be increased by half, the law says, although it doesn’t specifically define false information.

Freedom House downgraded Turkey’s status from “partly free” to “not free” in its 2018 report.

“Since 2018, when the implementation of the so-called presidential government system began, Turkey has been relegated from partly free status to not free status. This means Turkey is not a democratic country,” veteran journalist Cengiz Çandar wrote for the T24 news website, pointing to a correlation between the presidential system introduced by Erdoğan and the country’s poor record on rights and freedoms.

The entire “Freedom in the World 2023” narrative report for Turkey is not yet available.

According to the key findings of the report, global freedom has declined for the 17th consecutive year, with Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and attempts to undermine representative governments in various countries contributing to the negative trend.

However, the report indicates some positive developments, including more competitive elections and the rollback of pandemic-related restrictions that had disproportionately affected freedom of assembly and movement.

Thirty-four countries made improvements, and the tally of countries with declines was the smallest recorded since the negative trend began, with 35 countries.

Infringement on freedom of expression remains a key driver of democratic decline, with media freedom under pressure in at least 157 countries and territories during 2022.

The report evaluates countries based on 10 political rights and 15 civil liberties indicators, including political pluralism and participation, freedom of expression and belief, rule of law and individual rights. A score is typically changed only if there has been a real-world development during the year that warrants a decline or improvement (e.g., a crackdown on the media, the country’s first free and fair elections), though gradual changes in conditions — in the absence of a signal event — are occasionally registered in the scores.

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