Turkey and Thailand: Two elections, different outcomes

One poll remains deadlocked while another has seen the population vote for a change of direction

It’s been a long two decades of dwindling freedoms in Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But his control is teetering on a ledge. The election couldn’t have come at a worse time for Erdogan, with his questionable response to the earthquakes and soaring inflation winning him a fresh batch of critics. Last Sunday Turkey headed to the polls. And the winner was… nobody. With neither former Index Tyrant of the Year Erdogan nor opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu reaching the 50% threshold needed to win the presidency, it’s back to the voting booths again.
In the week before the election, PEN Norway’s Turkey adviser shared a stack of interviews with Index, which made for sombre bedtime reading. Eleven representatives from the country’s major political parties discussed the state of free expression — or lack thereof — which Jemimah Steinfeld wrote about.
In one interview, Zeynep Esmeray Özadikti, who is a candidate for MP from Turkey’s Worker Party, wrote about the silencing of the LGBTQ+ community, hoping that if she as a trans woman is elected, it will be an important step: “In Turkey, the LGBTI+ community cannot use their freedom of expression in any way and are criminalised. Rainbow-themed products are banned, rainbow flags are seized in protests, Pride parades and indoor meetings are banned. Associations and organisations working for LGBTI+ rights are targeted and threatened.”
We could fill a whole magazine with stories about Turkey’s rocky relationship with free expression, starting with the repression of LGBTQ+ rights and Kurdish communities, and moving onto the scores of journalists who have been locked up. In our latest issue, our Turkey contributing editor Kaya Genç took a deep dive into one example of a newsroom going against the propaganda-led mainstream, Medyascope. If you want up-to-the-minute news on what’s going on in Turkey, their website is a good place to start (thank goodness for Google translate for those of us who haven’t yet set our Duolingo to Turkish).
In the run-up to the election, Turkish youth have been scouring YouTube for information that doesn’t come with a side-helping of propaganda, and the Turkish government has pulled out all the stops in silencing journalists reporting on the earthquakes, rather than focusing on… well… disaster relief. They haven’t shied away from blocking social media platforms either.
What happens next is important. If Erdogan wins, what will such a close call do to the state of Turkey’s freedoms? The first-round vote landed at 49.51% for Erdogan and 44.88% for Kılıçdaroğlu, and let’s remember who’s got the media on their side. The second round of voting is set for 28 May, and while Index would absolutely never ever back a specific candidate, we are hoping to see democracy prevail over autocracy.
Further east, and another country is undergoing a seismic change at the hands of an election held last Sunday. Where Turkey is in political limbo, Thailand is out the other side. Or is it? The country has had a military-backed government since the 2014 coup, but Sunday’s vote sent Thailand spinning off in a new direction, with the progressive Move Forward Party’s Pita Limjaroenrat likely to take the driving seat of a coalition. The party is breaking Thailand’s big taboo with plans to reform the monarchy, which is all the more poignant considering the democracy protests that started in 2020, when demonstrators asked for exactly that to happen. Under the current lese-majeste law, criticising the monarchy usually comes with a stint behind bars of up to 15 years. Thais asked for democracy. They asked for progression. They asked for the right to insult the king without spending over a decade in jail. And if all goes smoothly from here, that’s exactly what they’ll get.
But it is a big “if”. Not only will the House of Representatives (members of which were given their places through Sunday’s election) vote on who will be prime minister, so too will members of the Senate, who were selected by the military. And that’s where the story of Thailand’s democracy could come unstuck.

Don’t SLAPP the Messenger

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116887″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Why abusive legal threats and actions against journalists must be stopped.

Journalists are public watchdogs: by bringing information that is in the public interest to light, they help to hold power to account. But what if powerful or wealthy people wanted to keep their wrongdoings a secret? Abusive legal threats and actions, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPPs, are increasingly being used to intimidate journalists into silence. They are used to cover up unethical and criminal activity and to prevent the public of their right to know. SLAPPs have a devastating impact, not only on media freedom, but on human rights, rule of law, and our very democracies. This webinar hosted by Index on Censorship, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), will examine the issue of SLAPP and why we need to take action in the UK and the EU to stop them.

Bill Browder, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign (chair)
Annelie Östlund, financial journalist
Herman Grech, Editor in Chief of Times of Malta
Justin Borg Barthet, Senior Lecturer at University of Aberdeen

With contributions from:
Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Index on Censorship
Paulina Milewska, Anti-SLAPP Project Researcher at ECPMF
Susan Coughtrie, Project Director at Foreign Policy Centre


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Protest & Repression Around the Globe: A roundtable discussion on Hong Kong, Thailand, Russia and Belarus

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116310″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Over the past two years, there have been massive citizen-led protests in Hong Kong, Thailand, Russia, and Belarus — as well as major acts of repression by their governments. Join us for a roundtable discussion that will zoom into these four countries, focusing on the similarities and differences between the two pairs of locales: Hong Kong and Thailand, and Russia and Belarus.

Our panel of experts include Natalya Chernyshova, Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Winchester who will discuss Belarus; Nina Khrushcheva, Professor in the Julien J. Studley Graduate Programs of International Affairs at The New School who will discuss Russia; Claudio Sopranzetti, Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Central European University who will discuss Thailand; and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History, UC Irvine, who will discuss Hong Kong. The conversation will be led by Maria Repnikova, Assistant Professor in Global Communication at Georgia State University, and will explore the possibilities of these citizen-led protests, and whether there have been — or will be — any major changes in government leadership, culture, or international relations within the four locations.

This event is programmed in partnership with the UCI Forum for the Academy and the Public, Wende Museum, Central European University Democracy Institute and the Orange County World Affairs Council.


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2020: One for the history books

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115942″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]2020 will undoubtedly be a year studied for generations, a year dominated by Covid-19.

A year in which 1.77 million people have died (as of this week) from a virus none of us had heard 12 months ago.

We have all lived in various stages of lockdown, some of our core human rights restricted, even in the most liberal of societies, in order to save lives.

A global recession, levels of government debt which have never been seen in peacetime in any nation.

Our lives lived more online than in the real world. If we’ve been lucky a year dominated by Netflix and boredom; if we weren’t so lucky a year dominated by the death of loved ones and the impact of long Covid.

Rather than being a year of hope this has been a year of fear. Fear of the unknown and of an illness, not an enemy.

Understandably little else has broken through the news agenda as we have followed every scientific briefing on the illness, its spread, the impact on our health services, the treatments, the vaccines, the new virus variants and the competence of our governments as they try to keep us safe.

But behind the headlines, there have been the stories of people’s actual lives. How Covid-19 changed them in every conceivable way. How some governments have used the pandemic as an opportunity to bring in new repressive measures to undermine the basic freedoms of their citizens. Of the closure of local newspapers – due to public health concerns as well as mass redundancies of journalists due to a sharp fall in revenue.

2020 wasn’t just about the pandemic though.

We saw worldwide protests as people responded under the universal banner of Black Lives Matter to the egregious murder of George Floyd.

In Hong Kong, the CCP enacted the National Security Law as a death knell to democracy and we saw protestors arrested and books removed from the public libraries – all under the guise of “security”.

The world witnessed more evidence of genocidal acts in Xinjiang province as the CCP Government continues to target the Muslim Uighur community.

In France, the world looked on in horror as Samuel Party was brutally murdered for teaching free speech to his students.

Genuine election fraud in Belarus led to mass protests, on many occasions led by women – as they sought free and fair elections rather than the sham they experienced this year.

In America, we lived and breathed the Presidential Election and witnessed the decisive victory of a new President – as Donald Trump continued to undermine the First Amendment, the free press and free and fair democracy.

In Thailand, we saw mass protests and the launch of the Milk Tea Alliance against the governments of Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan, seeking democracy in Southeast Asia.

In Egypt, the world witnessed the arrest of the staff of the EIPR for daring to brief international diplomats on the number of political prisoners currently held in Egyptian jails.

Ruhollah Zam was executed by his government for being a journalist and a human rights activist in Iran.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. From Kashmir to Tanzania to the Philippines we’ve heard report after report of horrendous attacks on our collective basic human rights. 72 years after United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we still face daily breaches in every corner of the planet.

While Index cannot support every victim or target, we can highlight those who embody the current scale of the attacks on our basic right to free expression.

Nearly everybody has experienced some form of loneliness or isolation this year. But even so we cannot imagine what it must be like to be incarcerated by your government for daring to be different, for being brave enough to use your voice, for investigating the actions of ruling party or even for studying history.

So, as we come to the end of this fateful year I urge you to send a message to one of our free speech heroes:

  • Aasif Sultan, who was arrested in Kashmir after writing about the death of Buhran Waniand has been under illegal detention without charge for more than 800 days;
  • Golrokh Emrahimi Iraee, jailed for writing about the practice of stoning in Iran;
  • Hatice Duman, the former editor of the banned socialist newspaper Atılım, who has been in jail in Turkey since 2002;
  • Khaled Drareni, the founder of the Casbah Tribune, jailed in Algeria for two years in September for ‘incitement to unarmed gathering’ simply for covering the weekly Hirak protests calling for political reform in the country;
  • Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist known for her attempts to raise awareness of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia;
  • Yuri Dmitriev, a historian being silenced by Putin in Russia for creating a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror and facing fabricated sexual assault charges.

Visit http://www.indexoncensorship.org/JailedNotForgotten to leave them a message.

Happy Christmas to you and yours and here’s to a more positive 2021.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]