Political and civil rights in Turkey have degraded so severely under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that it is no longer a free country, according to a new report on freedoms around the world.
The annual Freedom in the World report, produced by the US NGO Freedom House, has classified Turkey as “not free” for the first time since the report series began in 1999. It had lost its status as “partly free” due to a slide in political and civil rights.
Freedom House pointed to Mr Erdogan’s widespread crackdown in the wake of a failed 2016 coup and the disputed referendum in 2017 which gave the Turkish president widespread new powers.
The report also criticised Mr Erdogan for sacking elected mayors and replacing them with political allies and for “arbitrary prosecutions of rights activists and other perceived enemies of the state”.
Turkey’s passage over the threshold from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’ is the culmination of a long and accelerating slide in Freedom in the World,” wrote Michael Abramowitz, Freedom House’s president.
“The country’s score has been in free fall since 2014 due to an escalating series of assaults on the press, social media users, protesters, political parties, the judiciary, and the electoral system, as President Recep Tayyip Erdodan fights to impose personalised control over the state and society in a deteriorating domestic and regional security environment.”
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There was no immediate response from the Turkish government to the report.
The report painted a gloomy picture of the state of freedom around the world, finding that for a 12th consecutive years there had been a “decline in global freedom”.
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Along with Turkey, 70 other countries suffered net declines in their political and civil rights, while only 35 improved their freedom scores.
“Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets — including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law — came under attack around the world,” the report found.
Graphic: Freedom in the world 2018 by aggregate score
The report estimated that about 39 per cent of the world’s 7.6 billion people live in free countries, compared to 24 per cent in partially free countries and 37 per cent in unfree countries.
Freedom House concluded that freedom in the US had suffered under Donald Trump and America was among the country’s whose scores had declined, although it was still classified as a free country.
It pointed to Russian interference in the 2016 US election as well as “violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency” as reasons for the US decline.
Freedom House criticised the Obama administration for not taking action to defend freedoms around the world but said that said the Trump administration “made explicit — in both words and actions — its intention to cast off principles that have guided US policy and formed the basis for American leadership over the past seven decades”.
Britain was given a 94 out of 100 on the freedom scale while the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Sweden and Norway topped the list on 100.
Syria came at the bottom of the table with -1 while North Korea and Eritrea were both on 3. Saudi Arabia was near the bottom with 7 while its regional rival Iran was on 17.
The vast majority of Freedom House’s funding comes from the US government and critics argue that its report often reflect US policy positions, for example its tough criticism of Russia.
Freedom House says it is an independent body and its assessment reflects its own examination of the data.