Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg won’t let anything get in the way of his global war on smoking — not even egregious human rights violations.
Crowing about the success of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ anti-smoking campaign in Turkey recently, he said that “Turkey is a great example, and it can be translated to other countries.” BP has been working with the Turkish government since 2009, when its nationwide public smoking ban first went into effect. According to the World Health Organization’s 2013 report on the “Global Tobacco Epidemic”–also funded by BP–smoking in Turkey decreased from 16 million adults in 2008 to 14.8 million in 2013.
“There were several tactics used to build support for the ban,” BP’s website explains, “including: (1) an aggressive media campaign to help get the law passed; (2) a visit to Scotland by a Turkish delegation to learn about governmental best practices on smoke-free implementation; and (3) regular television and radio ad campaigns supporting the law.”
BP isn’t shy about its fondness for Turkish Prime Minister and President-Elect Tayyip Erdoğan, whose “ancestral home on the Black Sea coast” Bloomberg recently visited, by way of his private jet.
“Turkey has been a leader in tobacco control over the past five years, putting in place proven policies to reduce tobacco use,” Bloomberg said last year. “I want to congratulate the Turkish government on taking these important steps to counter the deadly epidemic of tobacco use.” (RELATED: Boko Haram Executes Two People For Smoking Cigarettes)
Turkey also leads the world in imprisoned journalists — having put more reporters behind bars than China, Iran and Syria since 2012, when it first surpassed Iran in suppression of the press. Twenty-one journalists have been killed in Turkey since 1992.
According to Freedom House’s 2014 report on world freedom, the status of civil liberties in Turkey is comparable to that of Nigeria, Guatemala, Colombia and Malaysia — and worse than Bolivia and Mexico.
“A series of ‘deep state’ trials, in which hundreds of prominent Turks have been charged with alleged conspiracies to overthrow the government, have raised serious questions about the rule of law and selective justice,” the report explains. “These concerns have only been compounded by the government’s ongoing purge of of law enforcement officials and prosecutors in response to corruption cases recently brought against Erdoğan’s allies.” (RELATED: Jihadi Militants Ban Smoking In Conquered Territories)
“Turkish and international observers have compared Erdoğan to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the closer analogy is former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez,” said Nate Schenkkan, Freedom House’s Eurasian program officer. “As for any true revolutionary, the ends always justify the means. Destroying the old oligarchy has justified building a new one; ‘justice’ for the victims of past military coups has justified injustice in the rigged trials of Kemalists and military officers. … The cycle of creating and destroying enemies will continue as long as Erdoğan is in power.”
According to Schenkkan, during his presidential campaign Erdoğan “insulted religious and ethnic minorities to court Turkish nationalist and pious Sunni voters. He compared Israel to Hitler, over and over again. He used one of his last campaign rallies to tell a female journalist that she was ‘shameless’ and should ‘know her place.'”
Turkish religious freedom is also in dire shape, as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report explains: “The government limits all religious groups’ rights to own and maintain places of worship, train clergy, and offer religious education.”
The government is particularly hard on Orthodox Christians, whose Ecumenical Patriarch resides in Istanbul. Despite the ecumenical patriarch’s status as a leader of Eastern Orthodox throughout the world, Turkey requires that all members of the Church’s Holy Synod — and thus all potential patriarchs — be Turkish citizens, severely circumscribing the church’s ability to govern itself. The government also closed the renowned Halki seminary in 1971, considered by many to be the Orthodox Church’s flagship seminary, and which had produced the past five ecumenical patriarchs. Despite ongoing campaigns with international support, the government still refuses to allow its reopening.
USCIRF considers Turkey a “Tier 2” country, alongside countries like Afghanistan, Russia, Cuba and India. Tier 2 countries “are countries where the violations perpetrated or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ standard” used to determine countries of gravest concern to the U.S. government.
The World Health Organization can barely contain its enthusiasm for Turkey, however, joining Bloomberg in calling it “an example for other countries” in its 2013 tobacco report. “Turkey is the first country to attain the highest level of achievement in all six MPOWER measures.” MPOWER refers to WHO’s recommended tobacco control measures, which include raising taxes, banning smoking in public places, and banning tobacco advertising.
“This progress is a testament to the Turkish government’s sustained political commitment to tobacco control, and is an excellent example of collaboration between government, WHO and other international health organizations, and civil society.”
“The need for other countries to follow Turkey’s example,” they said, “is urgent.” (RELATED: Maryland Hospital Bans Its Employees From Smoking Anywhere On Earth)
Bloomberg Philanthropies has spent over $600 million on tobacco control advocacy and research since 2007. Speaking to a group of antismoking activists in Turkey earlier this summer, Bloomberg joked that his philanthropy may win him a Nobel prize.