People rally in support of press freedom in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 9, 2015.
People rally in support of press freedom in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 9, 2015.

ISTANBUL - U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, in its 2016 annual report, has warned of a rise in the politics of fear in Turkey, with the country’s leaders driving an attack on rights. The report was released in Turkey, a country that Human Rights Watch says has seen a marked decline in the respect for human rights and a steady drift toward authoritarianism.

The massive annual report focused on more than 90 countries, while examining global themes and threats to rights. It cited the politics of fear and the crushing of civil society, as threats.

HRW’s senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair Webb says since November’s general election victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, there has been an alarming decline in rights in Turkey.

“All the developments of the last months show that Turkey is on the trajectory towards authoritarianism. Basically, Erdogan and the AKP want to get rid of all the checks on the power of the executive. Most shattering of all has been the breakdown of the peace process with the Kurds and the crackdown on the media; plus the lack of an independent judiciary, spell dark times ahead for Turkey,” says Sinclair Webb.

Turkish prosecutors Wednesday announced they are seeking life imprisonment for editor Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper for publishing a story accusing government of supplying arms to jihadist fighting in Syria.

FILE - Journalists demanding greater media freedom
FILE - Journalists demanding greater media freedom are seen at a rally against Turkey's ruling AK Party.

EU accused of turning blind eye

In its report, HRW warned the European Union against ignoring the rights situation in Turkey in exchange for cooperation stemming the mass refugee migration to Europe. The report highlighted the Syrian conflict and resulting refugee crisis.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, says fear drove many of the world’s most worrying developments.

“Fear of being killed or tortured or starved to death drove millions from their homes from Syria. Fears of what that massive influx would mean for their societies led many in Europe to raise the gates. Fear of terrorism led governments to compromise rights and to scapegoat the refugees and indeed to fuel a rise in Islamophobia that has been unprecedented in recent years,” Roth said.

Roth claimed also the fear by the world’s autocrats of being held to account by their own people is driving a crackdown on rights. In Turkey this week, prosecutors opened a case against a mainstream TV news station for quoting an opposition leader accusing President Erdogan of being a dictator.

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