Draconian laws of an advanced democracy

Draconian laws of an advanced democracy

For weeks the Turkish opposition parties tried to resist and obstruct the security package from becoming law, but the government used the Oct. 6-7 Kobane unrest across the country to press ahead and legislated it. The president, who masterminded the package, swiftly signed the package into law. Now, has Turkey become more secure or has it become something closer to a police state? The answer varies depending on political proximity to the ruling Islamists and the absolute power-holding president of the country.

No state can allow a repeat of something like the Oct. 6-7 events. During those two days of unrest, dozens of people were killed in clashes between rival groups following protests over the government’s perceived inaction toward Syrian Kurds besieged by jihadists in the town of Kobane in northern Syria.

Kobane was of course a pretext, and the separatist gang and its political extensions were just testing the resolve of the government. Still, using the Kobane unrest as a pretext of introducing police state laws underlined the danger the remaining residue of democracy was facing in this country.

The new law – signed into law by the president on the evening of April 3 – granted extensive powers to the police forces and governors. Police officers have now acquired the power to detain anyone on the street who is considered to be making a public disturbance or a threat to security or private property. Police officers will no longer require authorization from a prosecutor or a court order to detain a person. In cases where the prosecutors consider there is a need or urgency, they will be able to order the detention of people. That means, for the first time a local top civil servant, obviously acting under orders of the political authority, will be able to issue orders as if he is the judge of a court. Can this be described as politicization of justice or bureaucratization of justice? Does it matter?

As it was before, a person caught in the act of committing a crime can be held in custody for 24 hours or that custody period can be extended to 48 hours if the crime was committed by a group (gang crime) or if the detention was made at a mass demonstration. The difference is now police forces can decide on detention on their own, or with the order of a governor, without a court order or demand from a prosecutor.

Governors have been the boss of the police. Governors have become the local boss of all government agencies, including the fire brigades. Under the new law, apart from other duties, the police will have the authority to force all agencies to comply with the governors’ orders. The governors, on the other hand, apart from their enhanced administrative powers, will have the powers of prosecutors as, very much like prosecutors, they will able to instruct the police to mobilize to find the perpetrators of a crime.

As opposed to frequent domestic and international criticism of the disproportionate use of force or simply excessive force by Turkish police in dealing with protestors, the law gave police extensive authority to use their weapons.

With the Gezi incidents of June 2013 still fresh in many people’s memories and with families still mourning the loss of their beloved ones to the disproportionate use of force by security forces, the law provides police officers the power to shoot at protesters in order to prevent them from harming public and private property. If under the previous legal framework police officers were only authorized to gradually increase the use of force in order to prevent a crime and still the country frequently encountered excessive use of official violence, what repercussions the new and additional powers of the police will bring about is of course worrisome.

The Oct. 6-7, 2014, Kobane demonstrations and related violence – mostly by Kurdish mobs on Islamists – were used by the government as the pretext of this draconian law, but it is widely believed the package aimed to enhance the powers of the security forces ahead the June 7 elections to crush probable dissent. Opposition parties and critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) fear the new law will pave the way to a full-fledged police state in the country.

The latest electricity glitch which sent the entire country into darkness for almost a day, the murder of a prosecutor in a courthouse by two gunmen and an armed female terrorist attacking and getting killed in front of a police station demonstrated the threat ahead. Rather than admitting gross intelligence and security failures and providing answers to why those incidents took place, the government tried to wash its hands by implicating the opposition in terrorist acts, accusing them of abetting terrorism.
A police state is not coming… It is at the door, and the door is open.