Reminder: Jailing the Opposition is What Dictators Do

Jailing the opposition is what tyrants do. Dictators remove all doubt of their leadership and strength. Read this story from Foreign Policy for a terrifying example. Watch it in action away from the comfort of the U.S., this time in Turkey.

Selahattin Demirtas, the co-head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party who many have dubbed “Kurdish Obama,” was arrested with 10 other parliamentary deputies in what Foreign Policy calls a “major blow” to Demirtas’ chances for future political success in Turkey.

The arrest was was due to what Turkish officials called “links to terrorism.” Turkey, led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reportedly cut access to Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

Even more galling to watch as an American was what Demirtas was trying to bring to the region. FP’s David Kenner reports:

More broadly, he attempted to transcend his party’s identity as one focused narrowly on Kurdish interests. By building bridges with liberal Turks, and advocating for issues like gay rights and environmentalism, he tried to establish a broad-based, leftist opposition movement to Erdogan. The traditional opposition parties had spent more than a decade getting drubbed by Erdogan at the polls; finally, some in the opposition hoped, an effort was afoot to develop a real alternative.

Those hopes have now been almost entirely crushed. The HDP saw its share of the vote fall in snap elections last November, as the Justice and Development Party (AKP), of which Erdogan is a co-founder, regained its parliamentary majority. A resurgence of violence last year between Turkish security forces and the PKK hamstrung the party. Some anti-Erdogan Turks began criticizing it as insufficiently critical of the group, which has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States. Erdogan, meanwhile, described the party’s call for local autonomy as “treason.”

Consider, as an American, how you’ll feel if it happens here. More than feelings, consider what it will mean for your life and freedom. What will the jailing of a political opponent mean for your ability to speak openly on issues of importance? Will the jailing of a political opponent turn into the jailing of those who politically oppose?

Recall that it is possible that it will happen here; in fact, Donald J. Trump, promised the jailing of his political opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump, you’ll recall, promised during a presidential debate to “instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation” if he became president. In the same debate, he sneered “you’d be in jail” to Clinton, reminding Americans of the promise: Vote for me and she goes away.

Whether you’re planning to vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, that may seem like a fine idea. The opposition is noisy and obnoxious; shut them up! But what happens when the tides turn? History has shown the tides always turn; no one stays in power forever. Will you be subjected to the same treatment you now want to inflict on others?

What will it mean for my life as a journalist and writer? Will writing blog posts like this one earn me a prison sentence? For you, will posting a message as simple as “The president is an asshole” on Facebook or Twitter mean jail time?

Consider what it will mean for the life of our country. Will the freedom of speech that our families, founders, and countrymen gave their lives for be taken away over fear of retribution?

Now consider that Trump, when asked by The New York Times if he was worried about Turkish leader Erdogan putting 50,000 people in jail (including teachers, police, and military officials), said:

“When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.”

Ask yourself, when he says things of this nature, “Is that true? Do we really have it poorly here?” I don’t think we do, in most ways. We have problems, but unlike many other countries, we are not made to have specific beliefs. There are no public beheadings or beatings. Women are allowed to work just as men are. Minorities have more rights every year. We can speak our minds freely without worry of jail time.

And our politicians don’t imprison opposition or dissenters without a damn good reason and due process.

Let’s take this conversation back. Let’s use the reason and free thought our family and friends died for. Let’s never let a line of bullshit by a wanna-be autocrat take us to a nightmarish situation other countries have already lived – and of course, died – through.

Let’s ask ourselves: Are we ready to trade our freedom – the freedom thousands of Americans have died for – to “Make America Great Again”?

Share this. Like it. Read it. Think about it. Argue about it. Do what you will. But remember that this moment in time, one where we can freely say what we would like without fear of political retribution, is to be cherished.

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