Turkey: Planned amendments to MİT bill too weak, commission likely to fail

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is planning to make a few minor changes to a draft law on the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and establish a parliamentary commission to monitor the activities of the intelligence agency, but the opposition parties are unhappy with the planned changes and say the commission is doomed to fail.
The ruling party plans to make the changes to the highly contested MİT draft law to secure the support of the opposition. But the opposition thinks the planned changes are unlikely to fix major problems that could arise if the draft is adopted.
The opposition parties also think the parliamentary commission would not be able to work effectively due to the broad powers the AK Party plans to vest in MİT with the new draft law.

The parties have already declared that they would not join an alliance with the AK Party to adopt the bill in Parliament. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it would take the law to the Constitutional Court for annulment if it is passed.

Critics agree the bill would damage Turkey’s democratic credentials and turn the country into an intelligence state. They also argue that the legislation would help Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has found himself struggling with a corruption investigation that went public on Dec. 17, 2013, to escape legal action over claims of corruption and bribery.

The bill was presented to Parliament by two AK Party deputies.

The AK Party is planning to submit a number of resolutions to Parliament this week to make slight amendments to the MİT bill.

According to one of the resolutions, the proposed parliamentary commission will monitor MİT’s activities for a period of three to six months. The commission will have members from each political party in proportion to the number of seats they hold in Parliament. Most of the commission’s members, naturally, will be from the AK Party as the party holds the majority of seats.

The commission’s work will be confidential; all reports and other documents belonging to the commission will be considered classified and will not be shared with the press.

Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said on TV on Sunday that Parliament will be able to monitor the activities of MİT with the AK Party’s resolution for the establishment of a parliamentary commission. “The commission will invite officials from MİT to discuss the activities of the agency. Reports will be prepared [about MİT’s activities] and the commission will call MİT officials to account [in the event of misconduct,]” Atalay said.

CHP deputy Aytuğ Atıcı, however, doesn’t believe that the parliamentary commission will work. He said the AK Party will establish a parliamentary commission to create the image that MİT is under the control of Parliament, but this will not be the case. “The AK Party doesn’t allow Parliament to examine audit reports prepared by the Court of Accounts. I don’t think this party will allow Parliament to monitor the activities of MİT,” he said.

Celal Dinçer, another CHP deputy, said the changes the AK Party plans to make to the MİT draft law would not ease people’s concerns over the bill. According to the deputy, the draft law includes some dangers for democracy in Turkey. In addition, it widens the scope of duty and authority of the intelligence agency.

Dinçer also believes that the AK Party will not take serious steps to place MİT under the control of Parliament or any judicial body. “The draft law does not contain any article suggesting that MİT will be placed under the control of a bureaucratic, judicial or political institution,” he said.

President Gül may be behind changes

The Taraf daily wrote on Monday that what led the AK Party to plan to make changes to the MİT draft law was President Abdullah Gül’s opposition to the draft. The bill, once adopted by Parliament, will require the approval of the president to go into force.

In early April, Gül expressed his objection to the draft law when he said, “Turkey should adopt pro-freedom but not pro-security policies,” in an interview with Turkish journalists in Kuwait.

Parliament’s General Assembly began discussing the bill last week.

Under the bill, MİT will be allowed to conduct operations against possible threats overseas. The organization will, in addition, be authorized to wiretap phone conversations overseas upon the orders of the MİT undersecretary or his/her aide. In addition, MİT will have unfettered access to the archives and databases of every ministry and will be able to collect any data on citizens these ministries have. What is more, the law requires private companies to hand over consumer data and technical equipment when requested.

The draft law also introduces severe penalties for obtaining and publishing MİT documents. If a person obtains, leaks or forges a confidential MİT document, he can face a prison sentence of between four and 10 years. If a person obtains and publishes a document related to MİT members, he faces between three and seven years imprisonment. If this publication makes its way into the print or visual media, the sentence will then be increased to up to 12 years.

An article in the draft law now reads, “MİT fulfills all duties vested in it by the Cabinet in such matters as foreign security, the fight against terrorism and national security.” After a change the AK Party plans to make to the draft bill, the article will read without the word “all.” Legal experts say the change will not mean anything as it will not limit MİT’s duties or authorities.

In addition, the AK Party plans to remove an article that says MİT officials will be allowed to use lie detectors from the draft. The officials will not be allowed to establish foundations and associations with false IDs, either. The part of the bill stating media bosses and printing staff will be punished for publishing confidential MİT documents will be removed, but the plans for penalties for correspondents and editors remain in place.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Faruk Bal said the AK Party government wants to pass the MİT law in Parliament because it wants to save several of its officials from an ongoing corruption and bribery investigation. “The government wants to hush up claims of corruption, theft, money laundering and gold smuggling. It also wants to conceal evidence related to those crimes. The government will give MİT a mandate to save it from the investigation [if the draft bill is adopted].”

Bal also the said secret talks between some AK Party government officials and members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Oslo will have a legal basis if Parliament passes the MİT draft law.

The MİT law gives the organization the right to hold talks with all groups, including terrorist organizations that pose a threat to national security. An article provides legal grounds for the Oslo talks, a series of meetings held secretly between some senior PKK operatives and MİT officials in Oslo in 2010 in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the country’s Kurdish problem.

The talks drew the ire of opposition parties in Turkey, who accused the AK Party of contributing to terrorism. They argued that the “peace talks” were part of negotiations with the terrorist group.

Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Demir Çelik said the government should expand citizens’ rights and freedoms instead of giving more powers to MİT.


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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