September 16, 2016

Long Arm of Erdogan

The Times Leading Article

Turkey cannot be allowed to export its ruthless crackdown to Britain.

Since the days of the 17th-century Huguenots Britain has developed a proud reputation for sheltering political and religious exiles. Now, as Turkish critics of Recep Tayyip Erdogan are hounded and harassed, the British government should stand firm and resist their extradition to Turkey on trumped-up charges.

As we report today, Turkish journalists and businessmen in Britain are being put under mounting pressure. A parliamentary delegation from Ankara recently made plain that it was compiling a list of Erdogan opponents who were allegedly providing “financial and propaganda support to a terrorist organisation”. That was a reference to the Gulen movement which Mr Erdogan claims pulled the strings of an attempted military coup against him in July.

The botched takeover claimed 271 lives and the aftermath has been extraordinary as the president seeks to establish control over every aspect of Turkish public life. Within a day of the coup falling apart he had demanded the dismissal and detention of 2,745 judges. More than 67,000 public sector workers were dismissed or jailed; at least 34 generals or admirals have been arrested, 16 television channels taken off the air and the shutters have come down in at least 1,000 private schools. Diplomats have been recalled and many muzzled journalists are riding out the crisis by writing from abroad.

The British edition of Turkey’s leading opposition newspaper Zaman has stopped printing because Turkish businesses are too nervous to advertise. Arrest warrants are out in Turkey for 47 of the newspaper’s journalists. Other journalists have been stranded in Britain having discovered that they have been placed on a wanted list. Social media postings urge Turks in Britain to spy on the activities of political opponents. The address of a Manchester nursery school has been posted on Facebook claiming that it was spreading support for terrorism.

It is intolerable that the government of a NATO ally should support an attempt to split communities in Britain. The destructive potential of this calculated intrusion can be seen clearly in Germany. There German-Turkish supporters of Mr Erdogan have been using Facebook and WhatsApp to call for a boycott of restaurants, hairdressers, doctors and building contractors, all supposedly supporters of the exiled preacher Muhammed Fethullah Gulen, who lives in America. Mosques are calling on Turkish Muslims to shun shops. Turkish entrepreneurs are being denounced as traitors by pro-Erdogan protesters. Germany has received dozens of official requests for arrests and extradition. This may be what is planned for Britain.

Germany, dependent on Turkey to hold back the migrant flow to Europe, has been muted in its response. The United States, under pressure to push Mr Gulen out of his exile, has also tried to soothe nerves in Ankara. Joe Biden, the vice-president, was dispatched to reassure Turkey.

Britain should not be so amenable. It rightly condemned the coup attempt on the Turkish head of state. Turkey, moreover, is a vital ally in the Middle East and beyond. The post-coup crackdown, however, seems to be serving not the stability of the Turkish state but the ambitions of the president to create a ruthless parody of democracy. This campaign should not be allowed to infiltrate the streets of Britain.

Published on The Times, 16 September 2016, Friday