O n the eve of the national referendum in Turkey on constitutional change, the Association of European Journalists draws attention to significant flaws in the conduct of the referendum vote, as detailed by the Council of Europe and referendum observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Venice Commission [European Commission for Democracy Through Law] stated in an Opinion published on 18 March that the proposed amendments would represent a dangerous step backwards in Turkey’s constitutional democratic tradition. The Commission’s legal experts emphasised the risks of degeneration towards an authoritarian and personal regime in Turkey. They concluded that a Yes vote would mean the President would exercise executive power alone, with extensive powers to issue presidential decrees and extend the present state of emergency, and the right to make more top judicial appointments himself.
On 7 April an Interim Report by the OSCE/ODIHR Referendum Observation Mission described the curtailment of fundamental freedoms in Turkey since the July 2016 attempted coup, leading to the detention or dismissal of thousands of citizens, including civil servants, judges, journalists and opposition party members; and the starkly unequal coverage on national TV channels given to the campaigns for and against the proposed changes. The AEJ believes that the arbitrary closure of over 150 media outlets, the arrest of at least 150 journalists, widespread misuse of anti-terrorism laws, and threats of prosecution against many critical social media users have created a climate of intimidation and one-sided conditions during the legislative process leading to the adoption of the referendum law and during the campaign leading up to Sunday’s vote.