‘No police state on way,’ Turkish government says in bill’s defense
Police group together as a water canon moves into position as protesters and students at Ankara's Middle East Technical University clash with riot police, Oct. 9.
The Turkish government has wasted no time after both the president and the prime minister announced that they would crack down on violent demonstrations by further empowering security forces, following recent protests against Ankara’s policies in Syria that left more than 35 people dead.
But in the face of rising concerns and objections, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş fervently rejected claims that the administration was turning Turkey into “a police state,” maintaining that the proposals merely included “preemptive” measures.
Two deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) introduced a bill to Parliament envisioning “effective investigation methods” late Oct. 14, ringing alarm bells for both opposition parties and opinion leaders. Anxious voices raised concern that the planned legislation could be abused to suppress freedom of expression just as anti-terrorism laws were used at the height of the Kurdish conflict in the 1990s.
Yet, Kurtulmuş dismissed claims and concerns, assuring that the legislation would absolutely not harm the exercise of “democratic rights.”
“All of the precautions that are introduced are precautions aimed at preempting, but are not steps that taken for pressuring people, harassing people that don’t have any relation with these incidents and restraining their freedoms,” Kurtulmuş told reporters Oct. 15.
But certain provisions in the bill introduced by Kırıkkale deputy Ramazan Can and Isparta deputy Recep Özel that call for an extension of authorities to law enforcement officers through amendments to both the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) are reminiscent of infamous practices in the past.
The concerns especially stem from the vagueness of the legislation which some commentators believe could be used to charge anyone who criticizes official policies.
“The public should be relaxed; neither a return back to the police state will happen, nor will Turkey regress in regards to democratic improvements,” Kurtulmuş said. “We say ’yes’ to use of democratic rights until the end. However, I suppose there is a need to say ‘no’ to turning streets into environment of terror under the guise of using democratic rights,” he said.
The current CMK’s article on search warrants for a suspect or defendant includes the requirement that there be “strong suspicion based on concrete evidence.” The planned amendment changes the criterion to “reasonable doubt."
But critics say the questions over “reasonable” could be used to inculcate an atmosphere of fear as was extant in the 1990s.
But according to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, the earlier expression of “strong suspicion” was “confusing” for some judges and prosecutors, hampering police searches.
None of those interpretations and explanations were satisfactory for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), with its spokesperson Haluk Koç arguing that the proposal would outstrip the repressive policies of the military junta after the 1980 coup.
“There is an attempt to shackle the most fundamental rights and individual freedoms by referring to recent provocations as an excuse,” said Koç, also the CHP deputy chair, calling the planned amendments “unacceptable.”
Apparently voicing his personal view, but not his party’s view, Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) Samsun deputy Cemalettin Şimşek said he hoped that the bill was “drafted in a way that separates democratic reaction and terrorist action from each other.”
A leading deputy of the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), the party accused by the AKP government of provoking the demonstrations by Kurdish citizens against Ankara’s perceived inaction toward Syrian Kurds besieged by jihadists in the Syrian border town of Kobane, suggested that the proposal would “mangle society.”
“They say ‘We will not return back to 1990s,’ but legislation falling behind the 1990s is being introduced,” HDP deputy Sebahat Tuncel said.
According to the proposal, crimes requiring wiretapping will be expanded and crimes committed against the state such as disrupting the unity and integrity of the state, collaborating with the enemy, provoking war against the state, acting against fundamental national interests, destroying military facilities, acting in agreement in favor of an enemy state’s military forces, recruiting soldiers against a foreign power, conspiring to the advantage of enemy military movements, providing material and financial aid to an enemy state, committing crimes against the constitutional order in ways such as violating the Constitution, committing crimes against the legislative body, staging armed insurrections against the government and founding an organization to commit such crimes will all be added to the related article.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, speaking in the southeastern Anatolian province of Adıyaman, defended the article about wiretapping: “How harmful can a preemptive wiretapping be?”
Arınç repetitively argued that all legislative amendments by the government had been and would be in line with the European Union acquis.
Commission-level debates on the bill which were scheduled for Oct. 15 were postponed.
The plans include the following amendments:
• The current CMK permits the confiscation of property, rights and holdings in the event of crimes related to “armed organizations” and “providing weaponry to armed organizations.” If the proposal is adopted, confiscation will be possible in investigations involving crimes such as violation of the Constitution, crimes against the legislative body, crimes against the government, armed revolts against the government, armed organizations, providing weaponry to armed organizations and making an agreement to commit a crime.
• The defendant will not be permitted to review the contents of case files or make copies of documents if a judge, upon the request from the public prosecutor, decides that it would jeopardize the aims of the investigation.
If the new proposals are adopted, traditional ceremonies held for the opening of the judicial year that have been held since 1943 will no longer be staged.
The judicial year opening ceremonies used to bring the country’s president, the head of Cabinet, and the justice minister together with top judicial officials as the guests of the head of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
However, this year the opening of the judicial year on Sept. 1 was carried out in the absence of top state and government officials, who protested the inclusion of Union of Bar Associations (TBB) head Metin Feyzioğlu as a speaker at the ceremony. Their absences came after Feyzioğlu had publicly angered then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a previous speech.