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Turkey’s Democratic Doublespeak

Journalists and their supporters gather outside the Justice Palace to protest against the detention of journalists in Istanbul December 26, 2011. A Turkish court on Monday hold the second hearing in case of 13 defendants, including journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, who are accused of links to a group accused of plotting to overthrow the government. REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW)

With Turkey’s ruling Islamists advocating secular democratic freedoms as the antidote to disgruntled constituents across the Middle East, critics question whether the Justice and Development party (AKP) is truly committed to the freedoms they preach. The basis for such doubts, the critics say, is a trend of diminishing press freedoms and an upsurge in state sanctioned religious doctrine. An estimated 100 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, many jailed for months without charge, making the moderate-Muslim country one of the leading foes of dissent worldwide. Meanwhile, the 2012 budget for the country’s Diyanet, or ministry of religious affairs, has been boosted 22.4 per cent to cultivate Sunni Islam.

Turkey has fallen ten places in the annual press freedoms index of Reporters Without Borders, which says the government must work quickly to reverse this trend or risk damaging its democratic gains: “Press freedoms will not improve as long as minority rights such as the Kurdish issue, Alevis’ religious rights and other minority rights remain a source of conflict,” says Erol Onderoglu from the media-monitoring body, noting an estimated 5,000 cases are currently pending against journalists in Turkey.

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