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Critical academic briefly held ahead of Turkey’s vote

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A Turkish academic who has criticized the lack of democracy in his country was briefly held and questioned in İstanbul, underscoring tensions ahead of landmark election next Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Berk Esen, a respected political scientist at İstanbul’s Sabancı University, said he was stopped by the police at the airport late Sunday as he returned.

He was released but will need to testify later this week.

Esen said his detention was linked to a defamation suit filed by a retired navy rear admiral over a tweet he sent in 2020 after he was released from detention.

“Under this authoritarian regime, defamation cases have become a very useful way of muting and intimidating dissident voices, and are systematically used not only by Erdoğan but also other figures deemed acceptable by the government,” Esen had tweeted.

The incident came one week before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces the toughest election of his two decades in power.

The tight vote has been accompanied by rising tensions and polarizing rhetoric.

The campaign bus of the opposition mayor of İstanbul was pelted with stones by government supporters while he was touring eastern Turkey’s conservative heartland on Sunday.

Erdoğan chief rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has urged supporters to stay home in case they win next Sunday, warning that “there may be riots”.

Esen’s research includes a series of reports that describe a country sliding into crony capitalism and authoritarianism under Erdoğan.

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