Big brother says hello: Controversial intelligence bill to grant broad powers to agency

A new controversial intelligence bill grants broad powers to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), introducing three to 12-year prison sentences for anyone who publishes highly classified MİT documents, a move which critics say is designed to deter journalists from making secret documents public.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) submitted the MİT bill to Parliament to push through wide-ranging changes that give new powers to the intelligence organization, with critics saying that the bill would ensure a legal cover for embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has found himself struggling with a corruption investigation that went public on Dec. 17.

With the new bill, if passed by Parliament and signed into law by the president, prosecutors will have to inform MİT in the event of an investigation into claims of wrongdoing of MİT personnel. As part of the new regulations, the MİT undersecretary will be tried at the Supreme Court of Appeals instead of a high criminal court.

MİT will have unfettered access to the archives and databases of every ministry and it will be able to collect any data on citizens. MİT is also tasked with the protection of national security and will carry out any mission determined by the Cabinet.

According to the new bill, a new council will be formed to coordinate intelligence gathering. The council will be chaired by the MİT undersecretary and include civilians, including the CEOs and managers of private companies, a radical change in the state mentality over the nature of intelligence affairs that aim to integrate the public mechanism and civilians into the state intelligence apparatus. The council will hold meetings once every three months to assess national security issues and intelligence gathering efforts.

With the new bill, publication of MİT documents will bring severe sentences, a move which aims to deter investigative journalists from using top secret documents provided by whistleblowers about critical issues in their news reports.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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