Turkish Journalist Can Dundar says that Turkey is heading for dictatorship, but voters can still turn the tide
Can you imagine a pre-dawn raid on the homes of every senior figure in the Guardian? The editor-in-chief being arrested, the CEO, four columnists, three solicitors, a reporter and a cartoonist?
That is precisely what happened to my newspaper last October.
I was the editor-in-chief of Turkey’s oldest newspaper, Cumhuriyet, until August – a post I decided to resign after the 15 July coup attempt. Murat Sabuncu, the new editor-in-chief, and 10 other colleagues have now been in detention for more than 100 days – in solitary confinement, with no idea what charges they are facing.
USING THE COUP ATTEMPT TO REINFORCE HIS POWER
Using the coup attempt to reinforce his power, the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has since been ruling the country under what is in effect martial law without the army.
It was this crackdown on justice and concern for my own safety that tore me from my family. In September I decided I would be safer in Germany. Shortly after, the police impounded my wife’s passport with no grounds whatsoever. She is being kept hostage by the state.
Before the coup attempt there were 30 journalists in prison. Now it’s 150.
THE PRESS IN TURKEY IS UNDER THE COSH
The press in Turkey is under the cosh. The mainstream media have been silenced through political and economic oppression. The majority of opposition channels have been closed down. The last bastions are being strangled by censorship.
The joint leaders and 10 MPs from the second largest opposition party in parliament are in prison.
Tens of thousands of civil servants have been dismissed.
Four thousand academics, including signatories to a petition for peace, have been sacked.
It is under these conditions that Turkey proceeds towards the most important referendum in its history. Assured that he now has sufficient strength to change the parliamentary democracy, Erdoğan has drawn up an amended constitution that will grant him sole control.
Should this amendment be approved on 15 April, Erdoğan will assume all parliamentary powers, including the ability to suspend parliament. He will rule over the council that appoints prosecutors and judges, which means total control over the judiciary.
In other words, he wants to remove any hope of Turkey being a secular democracy, instead transforming it into a religion-based dictatorship.
A no vote could rein in his unchecked rise. A yes result will mean the birth of yet another Putinesque regime in the region.
Having trampled the constitution that he swore to uphold and thrown aside his responsibility to be impartial, Erdoğan has entered the campaign trail supported by the bureaucracy, media, academia, the military and the police. Anyone campaigning for no faces dismissal from their jobs and arrest. A thick cloud of fear has descended over the silent land.
Yet the polls forecast an even split. The result will be determined by the 20% who are undecided at present.
It’s also worth remembering that Erdoğan got only 52% of the vote at the last presidential election in 2014, and before that we saw the biggest anti-establishment protests in history in Gezi Park.
They may be intimidated, they may be quiet, but those people who stood against Erdoğan are still there, and we need to give them our support.
It is support they won’t get from international leaders such as Donald Trump, who gushed about what a good friend and ally Ankara has been to Washington.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has provided a supportive shoulder to Erdoğan, despite a few diplomatic hiccups along the way.
And the British prime minister, Theresa May, visited recently to punt fighter jets worth £100m. Anyone expecting a PM from the cradle of parliamentary democracy to criticise Erdoğan – who is sailing ever closer towards a dictatorship – was deeply disappointed by her silence.
A yes result in this referendum would be a victory for them: the populists, the weapons marketeers, the hostage takers.
But a no vote could be just the thing to bring us back from the edge, liberating our country and our colleagues.
This is why I am not pessimistic about my country’s future and will continue to fight to get it back. After all, my past, my future, my wife and my paper are all still there.