A foreign journalist representing a reputable German newspaper is picked up and accused of supporting a terrorist organization. A German human-rights organizer is also detained on charges of supporting a yet-to-be-defined terrorist organization. Is this happening in North Korea? Iran? No—this is occurring in Turkey, where the arrests of Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German dual national working for the German daily, Die Welt, and Peter Steudtner, a human-rights worker, have provoked an unprecedented crisis between Germany and Turkey that could soon roil relations with the rest of the European Union.
Ever since last July’s failed coup attempt, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has engaged in an orgy of arrests, dismissals, purges of judges, journalists, academics, public servants, and military officers. Some 150,000 people have been removed from state institutions or universities, often on the mere suspicion of being affiliated with the cleric Fethullah Gülen, a onetime ally of Erdogan who he accuses of plotting the coup; some 50,000 people have been arrested in connection with the failed coup, still awaiting their day in court a year later.
The purges are designed to rid the state of any opponents, real or imagined, and to replace them with cadres totally loyal to the leader, ready and willing to intimidate other Turks. People are arrested for the most mundane of reasons, from wearing tee shirts emblazoned with the word “Hero,” to any criticism of the president deemed offensive. Of course, what is offensive is in the eye of a single beholder—in this case, the Erdogan-dominated state apparatus.