Giving the police a blank check

Giving the police a blank check

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in a hurry and wants it passed and implemented as soon as possible. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu insists everything is in order and according to EU criteria. But it looks like the angry debate on the new Internal Security Law the government has drafted and submitted to parliament will not subside any time soon.

On Feb. 17, the topic resulted in a fistfight in parliament leaving a number of deputies injured. The opposition is united in considering this draft law as nothing short of an attempt at turning Turkey into a police state. There is no other conclusion one can arrive at after looking at some of it draconian articles.

It allows the interior minister or governor to declare states of emergency. It increases police powers without any legal safeguards against the misuse of these powers. These powers include the right to search people bodily, as well as searching their houses, without a court order.

All that is needed is “reasonable suspicion” but the law does not define any limits to this. It allows people to be detained “incommunicado” for up to 48 hours in the same way. Worst of all, it allows police the right to fire weapons with deadly intent at people brandishing Molotov cocktails, even if these are used simply against buildings.

The police can do the same against people carrying what is broadly defined as objects similar to Molotov cocktails. In addition to this, people wearing balaclavas or covering their faces in other ways during demonstrations are liable to a five years prison sentence.

The government says these measures are needed to protect life. Critics point out that most of the dead during the Gezi Park protests and last year’s Kobane protests were killed by the police. They also question what is lacking in the present penal code for the authorities to be able to take effective measures to protect life.

What is lacking, of course, is the freedom for the police to act as they will without the fear of legal accountability. If we follow the government’s logic, this means the police cannot do its job as it should because of current legal restrictions.

In a country like Turkey where the police act with impunity anyway, despite existing restrictions, it is clear the new security law amounts to not much more than giving them a blank check.

This means, among other things, that the police can decide on the spot what a demonstration is, even if two people are involved, and come to bear on them with the full force of this law, without the fear of having to account for their actions.

Incredibly, Davutoğlu claims this is all in line with EU standards. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, however, said in a statement on Feb. 6 that instead of addressing existing problems, the new law increases the powers of the police without reinforcing the necessary independent control over its actions.

International human rights watchdog groups that have studied the draft have also criticized it because it provides no protection against arbitrary actions by the state.

Political opponents in Turkey, for their part, argue the only aim of the new law is to suppress democratic rights. 

They also point to the new restrictions the government is brining to the Internet and say this is all part of a coordinated plan to stifle any opposition prior to the June elections. 

Despite all the criticism, the government is holding its ground and will likely pass the law by using its parliamentary majority. Experts say the Constitutional Court in turn will most likely annul many articles of the law, which at any rate would not pass the European Court of Human Rights.

What is ultimately important, however, is that drafting such a law in the first place, and having a president who wants it implemented “as soon as possible,” is enough to show the world where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) mentality is taking Turkey.