He pointed to Turkish authorities' crackdown on the offices of the independent-minded daily newspaper Zaman earlier this month, when police fired tear gas on protesters denouncing the state takeover of the media holding which owns the daily.
Saunders slammed the clampdown as "part of an unprecedented campaign to shut down or seize control of all forms of political, bureaucratic and media opposition," in what is allegedly aimed at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reining in the Islamist and Kurdish movements.
"Erdogan claims they are security threats, but in practice, these crackdowns give him absolute executive power by eliminating all institutions of democratic and popular dissent," he said.
As for Ankara's campaign against the opposition, it "went into high gear" late last year after Erdogan's Justice and Development Party won a majority in the national election, according to Saunders. He recalled that at the time, several moderate media outlets were shut down.
He also said that Erdogan won the November 2015 election "on a fear campaign aimed at Turkey's Kurds," who make up about a fifth of the country's population.
"They became threats to his goal of gaining an absolute majority he could use to rewrite the Turkish constitution and make himself president for life," Saunders said.
By doing so, "Erdogan has destroyed the unified and open Turkey he earlier helped to create," Saunders pointed out.
"And he has done so using the tools not just of authoritarianism but now, by silencing the media, of totalitarianism," Saunders concluded.