Many had expected that rights and freedoms would be among the first victims of the coronavirus crisis in Turkey, as they have been in any other turmoil in the country. Indeed, health professionals disputing the official tally of coronavirus cases have faced probes or seen their social media accounts blocked, while journalists have landed in police custody for their coverage of the pandemic, including one already in prison, pending trial for a tweet lampooning a donation campaign launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Such incidents have hardly come as a surprise, but few could have foreseen the crisis that erupted last week. As Turkey’s infection cases shot up, prompting tighter restrictions to contain the outbreak, the government barred opposition-held local administrations from raising funds to help those worst affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. While the move is alarming in terms of civil rights and freedoms, it also speaks volumes about Erdogan’s fears, the vicious circles squeezing Turkish politics and what could be in store down the road.