Turkey has increased its crackdown on critics of the ruling party with a new round of arrests. This time it targeted former navy admirals who expressed criticism about the country potentially building a new canal.
While the issue might seem banal, in Turkey there is no critique permitted of anything from the ruling party of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country increasingly jails people for tweets and calls individuals "terrorists" for protests at universities.
Turkey on Monday detained ten retired admirals after they openly criticized a canal project, France 24 reported. The project is "dear to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a country where the hint of military insubordination raises the specter of past coups." The actual criticism is quite mild and the actual issue appears banal.
"The official approval last month of plans to develop a 45-kilometer (28-mile) shipping lane in Istanbul comparable to the Panama or Suez canals has opened up debate about Turkey's commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention," the report reads.
The admirals prefer a Turkey that is part of international agreements and follows them. Turkey has increasingly been threatening its neighbors in Greece and causing controversy with the US and NATO by acquiring Russian weapon systems.
It has also fueled conflict in Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan and has used Syrian refugees as mercenaries. Any critique of Ankara's drift toward authoritarianism, religious extremism and extremist rhetoric is increasingly being treated as "terrorism" and people are arrested in Turkey even for tweets that are many years old.
The admirals raised concerns about Turkey's obligations under the 1936 Montreux Convention.
Ankara's ruling AK Party controls most of the media in the country and the government uses the media as AK party mouthpieces, from TRT to Anadolu and other major media. This makes it difficult for any discussion in Turkey to include any critique of government policy. Turkey's retired admirals had merely expressed concern about the country's obligations to a convention; for that, they may be imprisoned.
This follows a New York Times story that shed light on the plight of Turkish trainee pilots now sentenced to life in prison for a 2016 coup attempt they had no role in. The poor young men happened to be at a military base that was used by coup plotters, but did not take part and were merely trainees. For being in the same area as the plotters the young men are now all in prison for the rest of their lives.
They were some of Turkey's promising F-16 pilots, leading to questions about how many pilots the country now has. It appears that two entire classes of trainees were imprisoned. Turkey has purged more than 150,000 people since the coup attempt and has used it as an excuse to go after Kurdish minorities and to attack gay rights protests, basically silencing everyone in the country.
In another case, Turkey detained a student from Canada's Carleton University. He has been kept in prison for six months for a tweet he wrote seven years ago. Most Western democracies are afraid to critique Ankara's crackdowns and do not stand by Turkish students who attend Western universities.
People are imprisoned in Turkey for things that would go unnoticed in China, Russia or Iran.
Former US diplomats during the Trump administration were key supporters of Ankara's drive toward authoritarianism over the last decade, with some even openly supporting Turkish-backed extremists who have ethnically cleansed northern Syria of minorities. The ability of the regime to reduce critiques in the West is key to its ability to crack down on dissent.
People are imprisoned in Turkey for minor criticism that might not land them in prison in China, Russia or Iran – leading to questions over why NATO-member Turkey is now one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.