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Editorials Globe editorial: Under Erdogan, Turkey descends into dictatorship

Turkey's presidency is a ceremonial role, or it was until Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the country's first directly-elected head of state in August of 2014.

Mr. Erdogan had already served three terms as prime minister. Term limits meant he had to step down, so he ran for president, won handily – and began remaking the office to suit his political ambitions.

The one-time Islamist activist has been transforming the former democracy into a de facto dictatorship ever since – an effort that was given a huge boost by a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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Post-coup, Mr. Erdogan has held his country in an indefinite state of emergency, which he has exploited to justify multiple violations of basic rights and the silencing of the press.

In April, he orchestrated a referendum on constitutional amendments that abolished the office of prime minister and consolidated a number of critical powers in the president's office, including the power to appoint judges and prosecutors.

Opponents of the amendments were systematically silenced by Mr. Erdogan, helping him win a slim majority, with 51.4 per cent of the vote. His margin of victory was bolstered by a friendly court decision that allowed the inclusion of unstamped ballots, raising doubts about the legitimacy of the referendum.

Mr. Erdogan is now the supreme and untouchable ruler of Turkey. Turks were reminded of his omnipotence in Orwellian fashion on July 15 of this year, when mobile phone users trying to make a call were first obliged to listen to a recorded message from him marking the anniversary of the attempted coup d'état.

In essence, the failed coup – in the immediate aftermath of which Mr. Erdogan and his allies boohooed about the pain of seeing their country's democracy under attack – has led to the very real overthrow of that same democracy by those very same people.

The examples of Mr. Erdogan's repression are many.

He has pursued the suspected followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he immediately and conveniently fingered as the mastermind behind the failed coup, with brutal, relentless vigour.

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He has arrested at least 50,000 people, including human-rights activists, half the senior military ranks, thousands of police officers and hundreds of journalists, many of whom have been jailed without even the veneer of due process.

As well, about 150,000 public servants have been sacked, including dozens of judges; 6,000 university professors have been dismissed; and dozens of media outlets have been shut down.

On Monday, 17 journalists from Turkey's last major independent newspaper were put on trial on terrorism charges. They stand accused because they contacted suspected Gulenists and wrote about them, and quoted their social media postings. Twelve of the journalists have been in jail for nine months, for the crime of doing their jobs.

Mr. Erdogan has also seized as many as 950 companies, with $11-billion in assets, on spurious grounds that the owners were sympathetic to the Gulenists. Executives have had to flee the country or face arrest.

Citizens have been detained for the crime of "insulting" the president, or, in the case of a fashion model and former Miss Turkey, sharing a satirical poem on social media.

The country's small Christian population is now living in fear, after the government confiscated as many as 50 churches and the land around them.

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Turkey has also taken to squabbling openly with its putative NATO allies. In late July, it leaked details of French and American military positions in Syria, an egregious betrayal.

Turkey's relentless human-rights abuses, including the arrest of German human rights workers and Mr. Erdogan's willingness to bring back the death penalty, have now also put its entry into the European Union into question – a blow to both the EU and Turkey.

Canada has been affected, too. According to Amnesty International, at least five dual Canadian/Turkish citizens have been detained and denied consular access. The number of Turks seeking political asylum in Canada has surged by a factor of five this year.

None of this was necessary. All of it is the product of Mr. Erdogan's naked quest for autocratic control. He has used a minor coup attempt of disputed origins as a pretext to end democracy.

A leader who was a democrat would not have taken these steps. Mr. Erdogan has turned what should have been, at worst, temporary measures until order was restored, into an ongoing repression of civil and political liberties, returning Turkey to dictatorship.

While he and his followers celebrate the anniversary of the failed coup – with grand ceremonies, a fresh roundup of 6,000 political opponents, and the renaming of streets and landmarks to suit the new regime – the free world can only mourn the death of a democratic ally.

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