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Turkish public supports police authority over terror suspects, research shows

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/1/2010 12:00:00 AM | ERISA DAUTAJ ŞENERDEM

An overwhelming majority Turkish people is alright with the idea of the police having a stricter authority and limit some of their fundamental rights when there is suspicion of a terror link, according to a research published by a university. The data extracted from 55,000 face-to-face interviews show that Turkey third from bottom among European countries where the survey was conducted

The majority of people, regardless of nationality, age, standard of living or other background, is likely to accept limitations on their fundamental rights when there is suspicion of terror-linked people or actions, a recent study has found.

A research note on how much people in European countries and Turkey trust police forces and to what extent they would agree that police are given more authority with regards to the time they keep suspected militants in custody has been published by Bahçeşehir University’s Economic and Social Research Center, or BETAM. The data was extracted from the 2008 European Social Survey, with 55,000 face-to-face interviews in 28 countries. In Turkey, the survey was conducted by the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK. Some 2,385 people were interviewed in 40 provinces.

The report said about 57 percent of people interviewed in Turkey claimed they strongly believed in the police and 69 percent said they believed the police should be given authority by law to keep a terror suspect in custody until the suspect is proven innocent.

“There have been serious improvements in the Turkish police forces recently,” Dilek Aydemir, a sociology expert at the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review on Tuesday in an interview, adding that there has been an increase in policemen’s education and awareness on issues such as human rights. She also said the police’s communication with the public has become more efficient.

Police in Turkey can keep a terror suspect in custody for two days. This length can be extended up to seven days with 24-hour extensions on the basis of criminal court decisions. The UK has the maximum allowed detention time in Europe, whereas Spain, which is similar to Turkey regarding its long-lasting fight against domestic terror, allows its police to keep a suspect under custody for five days.

Turkey is third from bottom among countries where the survey was conducted regarding public support for increasing the police’s authority over the time terror suspects are kept in custody, although the figure is still high (69 percent). “This is very important,” said Aydemir, adding that she would have expected the northern European and Scandinavian countries, given their strong defense of social rights and democratic freedoms, to be more concentrated at the bottom of the list.

“I believe that the police should be allowed to take the time necessary when dealing with suspected militants,” Serdar Erdurmaz, an international relations expert at the International Relations and Strategic Analysis Center’s, or TÜRKSAM, Middle East desk, told the Daily News. “But the laws must define the conditions under which this time can be extended [by the police] very well.”

Recalling EU reports that have alleged human rights violations by Turkish police forces, Erdurmaz said it was important to behave sensitively and set up rules and practices that do not allow any violation of human rights, although the time for suspects to be kept in custody may be extended.

Meanwhile, Aydemir said she found the time period for the police to keep a suspected militant already too long. “I believe using proactive strategies [to tackle the issue] would be a much better approach,” she said, adding that the whole process of participating in terror activities had to be examined more thoroughly and that people, especially children, who become part of this process in some way should be considered victims as well as casualties.

“However, the strategies [for dealing with the issue] have progressed in Turkey,” she said.

A striking fact in the research is how people in Scandinavian and northern European countries, in parallel with the high level of trust in their police forces, show strong support of giving police more authority over the time terror suspects are kept in custody.

“People believe that the risk [coming from a possible terrorist act] cannot be tolerated, thus they are likely to agree with whatever it takes to avoid this risk,” Halil İbrahim Bahar, another USAK sociology and police expert, told the Daily News. He also said the feeling of being at risk, especially regarding threats from terror activities, is not real, but rather something perceived by people.

Bahar expressed his reservations at the methodology used in the survey, saying that it would have been better to ask only what people’s trust in the police forces was, rather than asking for their trust in a number of other institutions simultaneously, although he agreed that the results gave hints to people’s general tendencies.

In the survey, respondents were asked: “For each institution name I will read now, please give points from 0 to 10 to show how much you personally trust in the institution: Police.” Zero meant no trust and 10 meant full trust and then the answers were broken down into high (57 percent, medium (23 percent), low (19.5 percent) and no answer (0.5 percent) categories.

Ebru Canan, the author of the research note, told the Daily News that they were planning to extend the study and look at people’s tendencies over time, rather than for a certain year. “We intend to look at [other variables such as] whether people trust in their judicial system and whether terrorism is intensively present on their country’s agenda, among others,” she said.

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