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Turkey’s Democratic Dusk

CAMBRIDGE – When questioned recently about a constitutional law professor who was arrested for lecturing at an institute run by the country’s main pro-Kurdish political party, Turkey’s interior minister, Idris Naim Sahin, couldn’t hide his irritation: “I am having a hard time understanding those saying a professor should not be arrested while thousands of other people are being arrested in Turkey.”

Presumably, Sahin meant to say that a professor cannot claim special treatment under the law. But his remark inadvertently underscored Turkey’s new reality, in which any perceived opponent of the current regime can be jailed, with or without evidence, for terrorism or other violent acts.

Special courts, tasked with prosecuting terrorism and crimes against the state, have been working overtime to produce charges that are often as absurd as they are baseless. For example, journalists have been imprisoned for producing articles and books at the behest of an alleged terrorist organization called “Ergenekon,” whose existence has yet to be confirmed, despite years of investigation.

Likewise, military officers have been charged on the basis of blatantly fraudulent – indeed, amateurishly produced – documents containing obvious anachronisms. A senior police commissioner is currently languishing in jail for allegedly collaborating with far-left militants he spent his entire career hunting down. These prosecutions have cast an ever-widening net, ensnaring scores of journalists, authors, and academics, hundreds of military officers, and thousands of Kurdish politicians and activists, among others.