Another sugar-coated democracy pill from Turkish government

Another sugar-coated democracy pill from Turkish government

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced planned amendments to laws and regulations on Oct. 21, which he claimed to be “a revolutionary reform.” But looking at the details of the “reform” shows us that the government is once again trying to do what it is good at: Proposing a package that makes minor good changes while also increasing the government’s authority over people and state institutions.

The proposals include some changes that no sane mind could argue against: Distributing passports and driving licenses via the General Directorate of Civil Registration and Nationality, rather than the police; making it easier to change names and surnames; and removing a layer of bureaucracy in obtaining some official documents.

The tricky part comes in the articles regarding the right to protest. The government has long been harsh on almost every protester, especially since the Gezi protests in June 2013. Even dozens of people gathering for a press statement have been met with hundreds of police officers, tear gas and water cannons.

Now the government wants us to believe that peaceful protests will be able to be safely held, while those who resort to violence will be strictly penalized. The police, and probably also the gendarmerie, will be given the authority to detain anyone on orders from their superiors and keep them in custody for up to 24 hours.

The Molotov cocktail will be deemed a weapon, which it is. Those who cover their faces in protests will be treated as criminals, which is harsh but somewhat acceptable.

However, we have often seen the security forces’ response to peaceful protests and how some protesters have resorted to violence only after police attacks. We have often seen how the constitutional right to “hold protests without having initial permission” was violated on the excuse that the protesters disturbed the flow of traffic.

Even with their current authorities, the police have attacked, beaten, injured and even killed people. We have witnessed how the killers of the Gezi protesters are being protected and how difficult it is to hold the police officers who killed them to account.

On the same day when Davutoğlu announced the “revolutionary reforms” that will bring democracy to Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan again verbally attacked 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died after languishing in a coma for 10 months after being hit in the head with a gas canister during the Gezi protests.

“The child who unfortunately died in Istanbul was allegedly on his way to buy bread. This is not even close to the real case. He was a tool of a terrorist organization. They made up such stories," said Erdoğan, who in his election rallies earlier this year also got the crowd to boo Berkin’s justice-seeking mother.

So, being on the street during protests makes a child a “tool,” and if a police officer targets him and shoots him dead it is not a surprise. If you go onto the streets asking for his killer to be brought to justice, this means you want to disturb social peace and you will get your share of beatings, tear gas and pressurized water. Thanks to the new laws, you will also very likely be detained for 24 hours, unless you are a fast runner.

The government, of course, has not forgotten social media, which Erdoğan previously deemed a “menace.” “Necessary measures” will be taken individually in the event of a call for violence through social media, Davutoğlu said, adding that the government would be able to take further measures against social media if the “act of violence becomes widespread.” It is not difficult to predict how far the concept “call for violence” will be stretched in a country where members of çArşı, the supporters' group of football club Beşiktaş, are accused of trying to overthrow the government for participating in the protests.

The “reforms” that the government is offering today are, in a way, similar to the 2010 Constitutional reforms, approved in a referendum. One article that paved the way for the trial of 1980 military coup leaders was the coating of a package that allowed more control over the judiciary. Many liberal pundits who supported those reforms in the name of democracy now voice regret, as even the government has expressed its unhappiness with the level of control it had over the prosecutors and judges, which could not prevent the humiliation of the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe involving members of the Cabinet and Erdoğan’s son.

The AKP government has so far proved that it wants a democracy that consists of nothing more than rights for its members and supporters, and not much else to the rest. The ruling party’s understanding of freedom does not go far beyond religious freedom, such as allowing 10-year-old girls to wear headscarves in schools, and even that does not include Alevis, who have been rightfully fighting against Sunni-minded compulsory religious classes.

This latest move is just another attempt to tighten the grip on the opposition while making it even more difficult to criticize the government, and the president, in any way.