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Is model Turkey sliding into authoritarianism?

The trial of prize-winning Turkish journalist Nedim Sener resumed today. His case, along with many others, are raising concerns about Turkey and its model democracy in the Middle East. 

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Journalists and their supporters gather outside the Justice Palace to protest against the detention of journalists in Istanbul, Monday. A Turkish court held the second hearing in the case of journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, who are accused of being linked to a group accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Murad Sezer/Reuters

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A constitutional law professor, a prize-winning investigative journalist, a noted free-speech activist.

All of them are among the mounting number of Turkish lawyers, politicians, journalists, and academics put behind bars in recent months on dubious terror charges that are stoking fears that Turkey's courts and police are being used to crush political dissent.

Critics say that such cases are evidence that Turkey is sliding toward authoritarianism, even as it is lauded by Western governments as a role model for the Middle East – particularly in the wake of this year's Arab uprisings.

"Everyone is so dazzled by Turkey's regional role at the moment that there is almost total silence over this great situation of injustice unfolding at home," says Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Since 9/11, Turkey has convicted nearly 13,000 people of terrorism offenses, more than any of 66 countries – including China – examined in an Associated Press investigation published in September.

One case that has fueled fears of authoritarianism is that of two investigative reporters who were indicted as part of an antiterror probe targeting alleged ultrasecularist coup plotters.

Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, whose trial began last month and resumed today, are accused of conspiring with a gang aiming to overthrow Turkey's Islamic-rooted government – a gang whose criminal activity they had exposed in the past. More recently, Mr. Sener, who was named a World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute last year, and Mr. Sik had begun investigating the activities of a powerful Islamic network with links to the government. Among evidence seized during Sik's arrest was a book he was writing, in which he claimed Turkey's police had been infiltrated by Islamists.

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