Turks least supportive of right to criticize government: global survey

ANKARA (Reuters) - Only about half of Turks think people should be able to openly criticize government policies, according to a global survey, making them the least supportive of this democratic right among 38 countries taking part in the poll.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan delivers remarks after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Turkey, a NATO member that also aspires to join the European Union, has a well-established parliamentary democracy but ranks poorly in global rankings for free media and critics accuse the authorities of trying to muzzle dissent, a charge they deny.

Authorities seized two opposition newspapers and took two TV channels off the air ahead of a snap Nov. 1 election won by the ruling AK Party. Reporters accused of involvement in coup conspiracies against President Tayyip Erdogan have sometimes been held in custody for months or even years awaiting trial.

The survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Centre of opinions on free speech worldwide, published this week, found that large majorities of people in most countries believe people should be free to criticize their government without hindrance.

But while the proportion of those backing such free criticism stood, for example, at 95 percent in the United States, at 93 percent in Germany and Israel and at 72 percent in Russia - widely perceived in the West as more authoritarian - only 52 percent of Turks agreed.

Turks were also divided over what the media could report, with 40 percent saying the government should be able to restrict the publication of information about political protests, nearly double the global median and more than in any other country taking part in the survey except communist Vietnam.

Turkey has in recent years seen sometimes violent protests against the government and what its critics - including the EU and rights groups - see as a drift towards greater intolerance and authoritarianism.

In Turkey reporters have few opportunities to publicly challenge Erdogan or members of the mildly Islamist AK Party he founded and which has now been in power for 13 years.

At a summit of the Group of 20 leading economies held last week in Turkey, in contrast to U.S. President Barack Obama, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other leaders, Erdogan, the host, took no questions.

The Pew survey was based on 40,786 face-to-face and telephone interviews with adults in 38 countries -including a number in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America - from April 5 to May 21, 2015.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by David Dolan; Editing by Gareth Jones