Why a vocal Turkish activist’s prison sentence is a ‘nail in the coffin’ for free speech

A Turkish court last week sentenced activist and businessman Osman Kavala to life in prison for attempting to overthrow the government during 2013 protests. Kavala's sentencing is just another example of President Erdogan's crackdown on free speech. Temel Keren, a journalist and author of "How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps From Democracy to Dictatorship," joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Earlier this week, a Turkish court sentenced activist and businessman Osman Kavala to life in prison for attempting to overthrow the government during protests in 2013. Kavala's sentencing is just another example of President Erdogan crackdown on free speech in Turkey.

    For more I'm joined by Ece Temelkuran. She's a journalist and author of "How to Lose a Country: The Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship."

    And for folks who are not familiar with this case, why do you believe Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison without parole? And why was he in particular handed such a harsh sentence when he was one of hundreds of thousands of people who participated in those 2013 protests?

    Ece Temelkuran, Journalist and Author: Well, he's the symbol that I don't chose to punish. I think Osman Kavala is an internationally renowned activist his ties with Europe and western countries, that he is well known all around the world was the actual reason, Erogan chose to make him an example. I think he wanted to give the message that I don't care about the reaction coming from the west anymore.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So what then does this incident say about the state of free speech in Turkey?

  • Ece Temelkuran:

    Well, this is the last nail in the coffin of freedom of speech and also democracy. Because at least since 2010 the has — the situation has been deteriorating. But now this is more like in your face. There is no more freedom anymore.

    Today in Turkey, even people on the streets, ordinary people without any political stance, if they complain about how hard life is or how expensive things are, they are even facing the danger of being prosecuted. So it is — it's a proper dictatorship.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Why is this an important story for people outside of Turkey to pay attention to?

  • Ece Temelkuran:

    First, Turkey is an important country, it might look like a crazy country from outside, but it hasn't been the case. And I want especially the American audience to imagine Trump with amazing political skills, and 20 years running the country, then you might have an idea how it feels like in Turkey at the moment.

    So, one thing is it might happen to them. And the second thing is Turkey is too precious to let go. This whole thing happened because the international press left the country. In 2013 when Gezi uprising was happening the entire world was watching Turkey and I don't want took his time to open this case to punish those millions of people who attended Gezi, who defended the country's dignity during those protests. So things happen when nobody's watching.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And lastly, Ece, how could this sentencing affect the upcoming presidential elections in Turkey?

  • Ece Temelkuran:

    This decision in this case, it showed us that we are going to go through a really, really difficult election period I don't want will not loosen his grip. He won't even pretend to do so to lower some liberal hearts. So it's our job is going to be really hard not to lose our country.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Ece Temelkuran, thanks so much for your perspectives.

Listen to this Segment