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Advocacy groups alarmed at proposed police powers

ISTANBUL-Turkish Daily News | 5/29/2007 12:00:00 AM | ONUR BURÇAK BELLİ

In the wake of renewed security and anti-terror debate following last week's deadly bombing in Ankara, new legislation to bolster police power now moving swiftly through parliament is raising deep

 In the wake of renewed security and anti-terror debate following last week's deadly bombing in Ankara, new legislation to bolster police power now moving swiftly through parliament is raising deep concerns in human rights circles.

 The legislation is supported by both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) along with most of the opposition as a measure needed in the face of rising terror in Turkey's southeast as well as the specific bombing that killed five and injured nearly a hundred a week ago in Ulus, a downtown shopping area.

  Minister of the Interior Osman Güneş, a promoter of the legislation within the AKP, said the law is important to attack terror.

  “We totally agree with the general leading motives of the legislation and support it, “ Güneş said yesterday as the measure gained approval of a second parliamentary. It is expected to be voted on by the full parliament as soon as the weekend. Upon passage, it will still the endorsement of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, but he is expected to look favorably upon the legislation.

 Passage of  the legislation will enable police to better protect citizens said AKP Eskişehir deputy Muharrem Tozçöken, one of the deputies who proposed the bill. “Our bill is to provide peace for our ordinary citizens. It envisions stronger hands for our security forces in this context.”

  But it goes too far say many outside of government, particular in non-governmental organizations dealing with human rights and Turkey's integration with European Union norms.

 Even Turkish Bar Association (TBB) President, Özdemir Özok, known for his strong support for law enforcement, questioned whether the law will be balanced: “The police have to approach rights, freedoms and security issues in terms of international law and within the frame of law.”

  Terms of the bill first proposed last week will allow police to take fingerprints of anyone applying for a gun license, driving license, passport or Turkish citizenship. It also provides the police with a larger authority to stop, search and demand identification from individuals. The bill also enables the police to use anyone to collect information. Some lawyers say it represents the largest expansion of police authority ever.

  Human rights advocates, until recently optimistic about Turkey's progress, say it will be a huge step backward. Özok argued part of the problem is the attitude among some senior officials. For example, he cited the case of Istanbul Police Chief Celaletting Cerrah who once publicly defended a lynching.

  “We have to think twice about expanding the authority of such people,” Özok said.

  The root of the problem traces to the post 9/11 era, argued Turkey Human Rights Foundation general secretary Metin Bakkalcı. The worldwide trend, driven by fear, is to place human rights as secondary to security, he said.

  “This is a problem of democracy. Look at Dink, he was gunned down in daylight in front of our eyes. This means the signs of democracy are disappearing from life,” he said, referring to the assassination of Turkish Amenian journalist Hrant Dink last January.

  A stronger assessment of the new proposed law came from former Istanbul Bar Pesident Yücel Sayman who said police already have the authority they need and circumstances do not warrant the trampling on individual rights and privacy.

  “This new authority is the same type of authority a totalitarian police state would provide for its police,” Sayman said. 

Crime rate discussions

  Newspaper headlines triggered a public debate on rising violence and the causes of rising criminal incidents, especially in recent months. Galma Jahic from the Bilgi University Law Faculty said results did not specify where exactly the dramatic shifts happened, noting that 40 percent of crimes are not reported to the police.

  “Nevertheless, there is an increase in the cases reported,” Jahic pointed out, adding, “The people have a growing fear of crime, the media is also fueling this fear and fueling the police, too. I guess this is a way to explain the results. Otherwise this kind of an increase, in only a year, is impossible.”

 Many authorities with the security forces including Cerrah himself criticized the limited authority and argued that the reason of the rising crime rates was partly these restrictions. But on the other hand, the limitations AKP envisioned due to the EU integration process were the same as security norms around the world said criminal lawyer and human rights advocate Ergin Cinmen.

  Because of the lack of a control mechanism over the police and the conditions of the police as civil servants, reforms have long been needed to curtail police power rather than expand it he said.

  “The country has been counted among the countries that used systematic torture,” said Cinmen.

  Police have ignored any curtailment of their power. Expanding it with the excuse of a state of emergency will only exacerbate problems between civil society and law enforcement, he said.

  He noted events during international Labor Day on May 1, where not only protestors but bystanders and journalists were gassed and beaten by police.

   “I think this development is very worrying,” he said.

 

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