The No-More-Mr-Nice-Guy law
Last weekend, public attention in Turkey was focused on the limited military operation in Syria. Some 100 Turkish armed vehicles and 570 soldiers crossed the border to relocate the tomb of Süleyman Şah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) territory to a safer Kurdish zone. The opposition has engaged in a lot of nationalist brouhaha about this supposedly unpatriotic move by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
In my view, all this brouhaha is nonsense, as the government did the right thing by saving Turkey from a tight spot within our ever-more-dangerous southern neighbor. However, simultaneously the same government was taking a really worrying step somewhere else - in the national parliament. What I am referring to is the new set of amendments to the Domestic Security Bill, which are being passed despite the opposition’s rejections and protests. As Amnesty International summarized nicely in a report it published the other day, these legal changes “threaten human rights, including the prospect of increased arbitrary detention, excessive use of firearms by police and politically motivated criminal investigations.”
In particular, the authority given to the police to use firearms in the face of political protests is quite worrying. So far, the police have been authorized to use only tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to subdue angry protestors. Even those have caused several deaths in mass demonstrations such as the Gezi Park protests of June 2013, but now the police will be able to use live bullets. God knows what that could lead to.
The government defends itself by saying this authority is not being given for no reason. They point out that some protestors in Turkey, especially within the Kurdish nationalist movement, are themselves violent. This is not untrue. Indeed, the legal amendment also makes this point, stating that the police will use firearms only against those who “use or attempt to use Molotov cocktails, as well explosives, inflammables, incendiaries, suffocating devices, or injurious or similar arms.”
However, there is the risk that this could be taken as a blank check by the police to shoot at protestors, who may be holding “injurious arms” as simple as stones. There is also the risk that totally peaceful protestors could be shot at in response to a few violent extremists among them.
Such worrying risks have been pointed out by the opposition, and it is notable that former President Abdullah Gül also suggested last week that his “friends” in the AKP should “reconsider” the law.
However, the AKP group in parliament, with strong encouragement from current President Tayyip Erdoğan, has reconsidered nothing and passed the first part of the amendments.
The Erdoğan regime (which is a more accurate term now than the “AKP government”) seems to be entering a No-More-Mr.-Nice-Guy phase. Over the past two years, the political rhetoric of the regime has been to demonize its opponents as traitors, spies and terrorists. Turkey’s legal apparatus, which the AKP itself helped reform according the European Union criteria in its initial years in government, is too lenient to fight such monstrous enemies. Now, the political rhetoric is leading its logical outcomes.
However, I am pretty sure that it will not achieve its objectives. A heavy-handed state is a recipe for nothing more than a fiercer opposition. That is why, unfortunately, what we have on the horizon is not the nicely tamed society led by a glorious leader, as Erdoğan probably hopes for. Rather, it is an even more polarized society, with increasing levels of tension that should worry us all.