“Sorry, the term you are looking for cannot be found. Please try again on June 25.”
This is the message internet users get in Turkey when they search for the words “freedom” or “liberty”.
It’s not, however, a case of censorship by the country’s authoritarian government ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.
In fact, the website people are directed to is that of the opposition Iyi (Good) party. It has bought up Google ad space to highlight the human rights situation in Turkey.
Iyi is one of several parties to have joined forces in an unusual alliance, to try to prevent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from tightening his grip on power. Its leader Meral Aksener is standing in the presidential vote.
Selahattin Demirtas, presidential candidate for the pro-Kurdish opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is running for office from prison. He was jailed in November 2016 over alleged ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Dozens of HDP activists have reportedly been detained since campaigning began on April 28.
Since an attempted coup in July 2016, thousands of people have been arrested or sacked from their jobs, on suspicion of links to the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Some 150 journalists are currently imprisoned.
Erdogan has since consolidated his power, becoming leader of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) following a 2017 referendum creating a new executive presidency system.
The president called the elections early, citing “developments of historical importance in our region” as well as Turkey’s military operations in Syria. His critics believe the decision has more to do with the country’s troubled economy, which many expect to get worse.