Trump’s favorite strongman in the east can’t stop arresting journalists

Erdogan, of Trump’s favorite authoritarians, continues his brutal media crackdown

Journalists and activists gather outside the court in Istanbul, Friday, July 28, 2017, protesting against the trial of journalists and staff from the Cumhuriyet newspaper, staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused of aiding terror organizations. CREDIT: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
Journalists and activists gather outside the court in Istanbul, Friday, July 28, 2017, protesting against the trial of journalists and staff from the Cumhuriyet newspaper, staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused of aiding terror organizations. CREDIT: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

Turkey on Thursday issued arrest warrants for 35 people, nine of them journalists, on suspicion of connection to the July 2016 failed military coup.

Citing the stat-run Anadolu news agency, the Associated Press reports that the journalists include Burak Ekici, editor of the opposition newspaper. He’s accused of being a member of “an armed terrorist organization.”

This is part of the larger ongoing crackdown on the media, opposition, and civil society groups by hardline president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man President Trump welcomed to Washington, D.C. in May.

Trump and Erdogan have a mutual disdain for the media, with Trump accusing virtually every media outlet of reporting “fake news” and Erdogan ordering the closure of 150 media outlets in his country and jailing over 160 journalists. In January, Erdogan actually praised Trump for refusing to answer questions he didn’t like during a press briefing.

According the 2016 annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the mass arrests following the coup made Turkey the number of jailer of journalists that year – more than China, Egypt, and Iran.

The U.S. and Turkish presidents have their disagreements of course. The United States arms Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and Erdogan views many of these groups as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group seeking autonomy from Turkey.

Turkey has refused to release an American pastor it arrested in October and accused of being involved in activities “against national security.” Turkey has also called on the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a cleric it says is responsible for last year’s attempted coup, and although the Trump administration reportedly considered this at one point, it has so far refused to do so.

While the U.S. State Department has expressed concern over the situation in Turkey, urging authorities to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Trump has remained silent on the issue, even when they extended on to U.S. soil in May. That’s when during Erdogan’s visit – as Trump was vowing to “reinvigorate our trade and commercial ties,” with Turkey – several Turkish officials attacked protesters in D.C. Trump remained silent on the crackdown on protesters, although D.C. police eventually issued arrest warrants for 12 security guards, all of whom are Turkish citizens, in June.

In April, Trump congratulated Erdogan on a referendum that further consolidated the power for the Turkish president and essentially decimated democracy in the country. It replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential one, allowing Erdogan to lead the parliament as well as his political party, the AKP (which virtually guarantees him immunity from parliamentary oversight). Once the changes go into effect, Erdogan will also have full control of the judiciary.

In addition to the media crackdowns, around 50,000 people have been arrested in Turkey this past year over alleged links to the coup, and 150,000 have either been fired or suspended from their jobs, including academics and police officers.