Turkey's police granted more power as controversial law enters into force

Turkey's police granted more power as controversial law enters into force

Turkeys police granted more power as controversial law enters into force Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has signed the controversial domestic security bill into law, which grants more powers to the police and governors, despite objection from opposition parties.

The bill that regulates the authority of the police was renamed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as "Legal Package To Protect Freedoms," as it triggered fist-fights in parliament during its debate in February.

Erdoğan approved the bill on April 3, after it passed the parliament floor with votes from the AKP, despite vows from all opposition parties to prevent it from becoming law.

Published in the official gazette on April 4, the domestic security law consists of 69 articles.

The government says the police need more powers to preserve public order and the safety of citizens, particularly on the eve of elections scheduled for June. They claim that more peaceful protests turn violent with the increasing use of Molotov cocktails and are also concerned about the recent spread of bonzai, a synthetic drug.

All opposition parties, on the other hand, had argued that that the bill would give draconian powers to the police. Their criticism is focused on the claim that the government designed the bill to suppress free speech rights by justifying future crackdowns on secondary threats. 

President Erdoğan himself was involved in the debate, taking a staunch line on Feb. 20, vowing that the bill "will pass one way or another," after some ruling party deputies signaled that the bill might be "moderated."

One of the most controversial articles of the bill that Erdoğan has signed into law gives the police the right to detain a person if it deems the situation as in flagrante delicto. Officers are now able to keep him or her in custody for 24 hours without seeing a judge. This period will be extended to 48 hours, if the police deem that there is a "collective crime." 

Previously in Turkey, only the judiciary could detain a person to take him or her into custody.

With the new law, a police chief will also be able to order a strip search or a car search. From 2007 until today, Turkish police have not had the legal authority to conduct strip searches or searches on a car's trunk and interior without the approval of a judge or prosecutor.

Transferring judicial authority to government appointees

The new law also gives the police the authority to use firearms against those who "use or attempt to use Molotov cocktails, as well explosives, inflammables, incendiaries, suffocating devices, or injurious or similar arms," revoking previous limits.

With the new law, slingshots, iron pellets and fireworks are classified as arms, making their use during demostrations as a crime that would be punished with up to four years in prison.

Another change stipulates a prison sentence of up to three years for those who participate in a demonstration with the emblem, sign or uniform of an "illegal organization."

Covering the face partly or fully during a demonstration, on the other hand, could bring a prison sentence up to five years.

The new law also grants the police to engage in wiretapping for intelligence purposes initially without a court order and also transfers some powers of prosecutors to administrative chiefs who are appointed by the government, such as governors.

A far less controversial article of the law classifies synthetic cannabinoid drugs, such as bonzai, as illegal, bringing heavier legal sanctions against their use and sale.

Other articles of the law say that police training centers will be able to accept new candidates aged up to 30. The previous age limit was 28.