The police probably over-reacted and the protesters should have the right to assemble and complain about things. BUT — they aren’t freedom fighters resisting a tyrannical government. They’re extremist secularists who are unhappy with repeatedly losing democratic elections and would probably prefer secular military control to democratic moderate Islam. That’s not admirable.
Sometimes democratically elected governments do things you don’t like but aren’t gross violations or oppression. The solution is to protest peacefully and respectfully and then organize and defeat them at the ballot box. You don’t get to riot against a legitimately elected government because you don’t like their policies.
Lacking the right to assemble is a pre-existing problem, not one tied to this particular administration, so I would separate that out of this situation. I also believe there is always a need to respect minority rights within a liberal democracy, but I don’t believe that’s really the issue here.
The AKP has done a tremendous amount of work in advancing and stabilizing representative democracy in Turkey, in a way that actually represented the population — something the secularists never did. The extreme secularists are fanatically opposed to the incumbent government no matter what it does — much like the tea partiers opposing President Obama — and they have been waiting for an opportunity to challenge the government. They controlled Turkey for many decades and supported repeated military coups to prevent non-secularists from taking power. The current government has already beaten back one or two coup attempts.
This is not about their rights being respected, this is about their bitterness at being out of power for 10 years. They are not being persecuted, they are just being unsuccessful at winning elections. The protesters’ cause is basically as illegitimate as if the Canadian left tried to riot against the conservative Harper government because of their own fractured incompetence and inability to win elections for half a decade, and they decided that made him Hitler. There’s a big difference between minority rights being infringed and losing free and fair elections several times in a row.
The AKP has been way better about respecting everyone’s rights and representing the people than the secularists are or were. They’ve also dramatically expanded public education, especially for young girls, and they’ve empowered more women to study at universities. If this group of extremists took power, they would immediately start trampling citizens’ rights, particularly non-secularists’ rights.
This is about being bitter losers looking for an excuse to fight, rather than about being a harassed minority. The US and other Western democracies should stand by the government (though not the police response) to preserve a successful model moderate Islamic government for the region to look to in democracy-building.