Turkey's spy agency granted extraordinary powers, as President Gül approves MİT law

Turkey's spy agency granted extraordinary powers, as President Gül approves MİT law

Turkeys spy agency granted extraordinary powers, as President Gül approves MİT law
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has approved a bill expanding the powers and immunities of the country’s spy agency amid strong reactions from opposition parties which argued that the bill will turn the country into "an intelligence state."

Gül’s office announced that the bill was signed into law by Gül late April 25. The bill was much criticized by the opposition parties on the grounds that it will increase the National Intelligence Organization's (MİT) powers without adequate checks and balances.

The new legislation, adopted last week by parliament after heated debates, provides expanded scope for the MIT agency to tap private phone conversations and collect intelligence related to terrorism and international crimes.

It also offers spy agents greater immunity from prosecution and provides for prison terms of up to 10 years for journalists and others who publish leaked information.

One of the most controversial articles of the bill stipulates that any citizen who failed to provide a document or information that the MİT requested will be tried and can be sentenced to up to four years in prison.

But the law stipulates that the president will have the final say over whether the head of the MİT will be tried, after deliberations at the parliament. In the event of an attempted prosecution, the MİT undersecretary will be able to appeal to the president within 10 days and object to being prosecuted. The president’s subsequent decision about whether or not to continue with the prosecution will be final. It also allows the establishment of a parliamentary panel for the control of MİT’s acts.

Motivation for the latest moves seems to date back to February 2012, when a crisis erupted after a specially authorized prosecutor summoned MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and four other MİT officials to testify in the ongoing investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), on the grounds that some MİT members who had infiltrated the KCK had exceeded their authority in their duties.

Fidan had attended talks between MİT officials and representatives of the outlawed PKK at a time when he was a special adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The contact was held abroad between 2009 and 2011 in a series of meetings publicly known as the “Oslo talks.” The talks collapsed after a PKK attack killed 13 soldiers near Diyarbakır in July 2011.

At the time of the investigation, Erdoğan claimed that he himself was in fact the target. Parliament then passed a hastily drafted bill, which required the prime minister’s permission to investigate any MİT official or any individual assigned special duties by the prime minister, in order to protect top intelligence officials from judicial probes.

Many pundits at the time suggested the incident was the result of a power struggle in the bureaucracy and the judiciary between the movement of reclusive Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and supporters of the prime minister.

The bill that Gül signed into law lays the legal ground for the government's negotiations with the PKK through the MİT.

Several pundits argue that the Constitutional Court, with its top judge Haşim Kılıç who heavily criticized the government today, may annul the MİT law.