Security bill back on Turkish parliament’s agenda

Security bill back on Turkish parliament’s agenda

Deniz Zeyrek ANKARA
Security bill back on Turkish parliament’s agenda

Thousands of lawyers marched from the Ankara Courthouse to the parliament with their gowns on yesterday to protest the draft bill on security. HÜRRİYET photo, Ender BAYKUŞ

Parliament’s General Assembly is scheduled to hold new debates on a controversial homeland security bill today, but there is no sign that the parties in the legislature are any closer to resolving their profound differences over the proposal.

The General Assembly-level debates have so far been postponed twice even though the bill was originally scheduled to be debated in early February.

Both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have been fiercely advocating the adoption of the bill, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are determined to say “no pasarán” to the bill and will use all their resources to prevent the bill from passing.

Still, AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Mahir Ünal recalled that amendments initiated by the opposition had been made during commission-level debates and implied that something similar could happen in the General Assembly as long as debates are conducted in a healthy way.

The government drafted this bill in order to eliminate security frailties that police encounter in line with changing dynamics, Ünal said.

Could we talk?

“We have tried to protect freedoms and public order at the same time. We have sought and we are seeking answers as to how citizens can arrange non-violent demonstrations without being provoked and without vandalism. Of course, problems are emerging during implementation. There is no arrangement which is 100 percent perfect,” Ünal said, in response to objections.

“It is not right to appeal to people’s fears while discussing these arrangements. Those who have had fears can come up and make contributions. Concerns from the opposition have been taken seriously. Unfortunately, we are not talking about what the arrangements serve. They are objecting to everything. For God’s sake, let’s sit and talk,” he added.

A matter of principle

CHP lawmaker Rıza Türmen said it was certain that the fundamental criterion for such arrangements was rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“The main point is principles. What needs to be done is encouraging freedoms, but that is not being done. Bills are being adopted by looking at incidents, instead of looking at principles,” said Türmen, a former judge at the ECHR.

“There is a problem of balance between security measures and freedoms. If bad examples that are being cited were proposed in Europe, they would have been problematic in regards to the ECHR rulings,” Türmen added.

Wider search power to police

“The Draft Law Changing Various Articles of the Law on the Powers and Duties of the Police, the Law on Gendarmerie Organization, Duties and Authorities, the Law on Population Services; and Some Laws and Some Statutory Decrees” would grant police wider powers to search people and vehicles without appropriate oversight when they stop vehicles for identity checks.

The current law requires authorization by a judge or prosecutor, but the draft law would bypass that authority, permitting a senior police officer to authorize searches in writing or verbally, then to submit the search warrants to a judge within 24 hours for after-the-fact approval.

According to Türmen’s interpretation, the stopping and searching decision which belongs to prosecutor and judge is being transferred for 24 hours to civilian authority and then to police, who will be tasked by that civilian authority. Thus, a citizen who will remain alone with police has no office to appeal to and arbitrary practices could occur until the judiciary steps in, Tüzmen said, adding that such a practice would increase violations of human rights. When the judiciary steps in, it would be too late.

However, the government insists that this arrangement is in line with the EU acquis. Ünal maintained that the rights of a citizen whose body is searched will be protected and that the authorities of police in regards to detentions and searches are not increasing at all.

“With this arrangement, the police will not be able to be a law unto himself,” he claimed.

Governors’ pressure on municipalities for water to TOMAs

Another contentious arrangement in the draft gives the highest administrative officer of a province, the governor, authority to assume powers that rightly belong to the prosecutorial authorities.

The draft bill states that: “Where necessary and where there is a need for urgent measures, a governor can give direct orders to the police chief or public officials to shed light on a crime and to find the perpetrators of the crime.” The provision makes it obligatory for all public officials to comply with such orders.

The opposition objects to the provision and argues that it violates the norm under which decisions about the investigation of crimes should be the responsibility of prosecutorial authorities and supervision by the judiciary, not political bodies.

“This arrangement is a handover of authority,” Türmen said, adding that “to shed light on a crime” is a duty for prosecutors, while handing it over to administrative officers is unconstitutional.

Türmen also said the provision increased the authority of governors over municipalities.

“Providing water for TOMAs is being an accomplice to the disproportionate and unnecessary violence of the police,” Türmen said, referring to the infamous armored water cannon vehicles, known as “Mass Incident Intervention Vehicles” (TOMA) in Turkish.

Municipalities cannot be assumed to have committed a crime when and if they refuse to provide water for TOMAs, he added.

Ünal defended the provision by giving an example. During the Oct. 6-8, 2014, demonstrations by Kurdish citizens against Ankara’s perceived inaction toward Syrian Kurds besieged by jihadists in the Syrian border town of Kobane, some public offices and privately owned shops were set on fire, he said. Mardin Municipality at the time didn’t provide water for the fire brigade and they aim at preventing similar cases through this arrangement, Ünal said.

Scope of power and poor articulation
Some of the other contentious provisions on which the government and the opposition are divided are outlined below:

Police would have the authority to detain a person without a warrant for up to 24 hours for certain crimes committed individually and to detain people for 48 hours “when the spread of violent incidents poses a serious threat to public order during mass incidents.”

The 14 crimes for which this authority would apply include assault, murder, theft, violent protest, and crimes under the Anti-Terror Law. Opponents draw attention to the fact that in crimes committed during “mass incidents,” the scope of the power to detain is poorly articulated, without limiting the authority to cases in which people are caught committing acts of violent protest or against whom there is reasonable evidence to indicate specific offending behavior.

The bill permits the police to use firearms to prevent an attack in a public place against buildings, vehicles, or people using a gasoline bomb (Molotov cocktail) or “similar weapon.” Opponents argue that the scope of this power gives rise to concern that it will increase the use of deadly force in cases in which such force is disproportionate to the threat at hand and not justified under international standards.