Unprecedented detentions in Turkey
This appeared in the Washington Post:
The 418-kilometre trek from Ankara to Istanbul is a gruelling journey through rough terrain and scorching heat, but this hasn’t stopped more than 10,000 demonstrators from setting out on an ambitious march for “justice.” For the past three weeks, opposition supporters have walked for about 20 kms a day to protest President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent. Another leader would have looked at this groundswell of public outrage and refrained from persecuting critics. Erdogan went in a different direction: On Wednesday, Turkish authorities detained two foreign trainers and eight human rights activists.
Erdogan’s sweeping assault on dissidents and civil society is much larger than these arrests: In April, it was estimated that more than 110,000 people have been detained since a failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan should not be allowed to imprison his critics with impunity. Though the march from Ankara is an encouraging sign, they cannot be expected to stand up to their repressive government alone.
It was heartening to see the U.S. State Department immediately issue a statement rebuking Turkey for these unwarranted detentions, but the Turkish government has ignored such statements before. The United States needs to send a stronger message to Erdogan and other foreign leaders who continue to stomp on human rights. For a start, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should put this issue at the top of his agenda when he visits Turkey this week.