Turkey’s new intel bill: Democracy or police state?

Turkey’s new intel bill: Democracy or police state?

Parliament has started discussing a new bill from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which would give extra powers to its National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

The bill came right after two new pieces of legislation, one over further limitations to the Internet and the other over introducing more political control to the appointment of judges and prosecutors. Due to these moves there is an ongoing debate between the government and the opposition over rights and freedoms.

According to the bill suggested by two AK Parti deputies, the MİT will be able to see all private or corporate data, including credit cards and bank accounts, in addition to public ones, when it comes to the issue of “foreign intelligence, terrorism or national security.” In the current law, the MİT’s duties are limited to foreign intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence measures.

The current law says the MİT cannot be given any mission other than foreign intelligence gathering, whereas the bill suggests that it can be given any mission related to terrorism and national security, along with foreign intelligence, from a Cabinet decision.

That could mean Turkish intelligence might assume operational missions, employ operational people, and work in the domestic security scene as well, which could also make it superior to the police and the gendarmerie forces.

The bill also makes the already weak and vague accountability of the MİT even weaker. No probe would be able to be opened over any MİT actions unless personal permission is given by the prime minister. Even if this is given, the trial would only be able to take place in certain courts in Ankara, designated by the Justice Ministry.

Such measures are new to Turkey and raise questions about the involvement of the intelligence agency in politics.

All three opposition parties in Parliament voiced strong reactions to the intelligence bill, denouncing it as an attempt by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to redesign the MİT to the needs of the AK Parti. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed that Erdoğan aimed at an “al-Assad-like state.” Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), said his party would definitely stand against it.

With extra powers to the intelligence agency and concentrating the authority of the prime minister, with weak legislative and judiciary control, brings the Turkish security structure closer to Asiatic examples than European ones.

But one has to keep in mind that the whole effort, including the controls over judges and prosecutors and the Internet limitations, are partly outcomes of the confrontation between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar, which surfaced after the graft probe started in December. Erdoğan accuses his once-close ally Gülen of trying to set up a “parallel state within state,” in other words, a secret organization within the administration, especially in the judiciary and security departments, aiming to bring him down from power.

Erdoğan might have his motivations justified by his party members who dominate Parliament, but the bill will be paid by Turkish citizens, who will have less protection over their privacy and a less transparent administration.