Turkish Parliament approves controversial intel bill
ANKARATurkey's Parliament on April 17 approved a law increasing the powers and immunities of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT), a move seen by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's critics as a bid to tighten his grip on the state apparatus as he wages a bitter power struggle.
The changes ratified by Parliament, which is dominated by Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), give the MİT more scope for eavesdropping and foreign operations, as well as greater immunity from prosecution for top agents.
Parliament approved the bill amid a widespread corruption scandal hitting the government. Adopted after a heated debate, the legislation also makes the leaking of classified documents an offense worthy of a prison-term.
Control of the NATO member's security apparatus is at the heart of a feud between Erdoğan and Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally based in the United States whose network of followers wields influence in the police and judiciary.
Erdoğan accuses Gülen's network of orchestrating a plot to unseat him, tapping thousands of phones, including his own, over years and using leaked recordings to unleash corruption allegations against his inner circle in the run-up to a series of elections. Gülen denies involvement.
Insisting the overhaul will make the agency more efficient and allow it to meet "new security and foreign policy needs," the government tried to convince its critics by the establishment of a parliamentary commission to oversee all intelligence organizations, but without giving the panel full authority to inspect the MİT.
Opposition parties say the bill grants the agency far-reaching powers and will turn Turkey into a surveillance state. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli described the bill as being “wrong from top to toe” and warned that it could lead to the return of the 1970s' "torture chambers."
Rights groups and civil society organizations have also criticized the bill. The Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP) issued a statement saying the MİT law is an attempt to turn the intelligence agency into the private intelligence organization of the prime minister. It said the draft is an assault on free speech and an attempt to reverse Turkey's democratic progress.
The opposition vowed to seek the bill's cancellation at the Constitutional Court.