Turkey’s countdown to autocracy: Parliament to begin discussing much-criticized ‘security package’

Turkish Parliament is to begin to discuss this week a domestic security bill that has been widely criticized as yet another step towards an authoritarian regime.

Ignoring  claims by the opposition parties that the bill is against the Constitution, the AKP is planning to rapidly pass the bill by keeping Parliament working including on the weekend.

The bill, which was passed nearly two weeks ago by the parliamentary Interior Affairs Commission following nearly a month of discussions, grants the Ministry of Interior, governors and district governors extensive powers.

The bill authorizes the police to detain, for 24 hours without a court order, anybody who it suspects to be a criminal by maintaining that the suspect was caught in the act.

In cases of social unrest, police will be able to keep suspects under custody for 48 hours, and the detention period will be able to be extended up to four days on the prosecutor’s instruction.

Opposition parties have blasted the package for not only putting personal freedoms in jeopardy, but also for violating the Constitution.

The draft bill, which is composed of 132 articles, also proposes subordinating the Gendarmerie General Command (JGK) as well as the Coast Guard Command (SGK) to the Interior Ministry, putting all work related to the assignment of those personnel under the interior minister’s control.

Both the JGK and the SGK are currently subordinate to the General Staff. The step has been harshly criticized by opposition parties, which maintain that the two bodies will come under political sway, as the bill authorizes the minister of interior to appoint gendarmerie officers.

According to the bill, the police college and the police academy will be closed down, and already acquired rights of students in these schools will be considered nullified.

Police will be able to stop and search a car without needing a prosecutor’s order, as specified in the bill. Police will also be able to detain people whom it suspects that will attend a protest or as a measure before arrival of a high level state official in a city.

The bill allows the police to wiretap telephones for 48 hours before a court order is issued. The police will need to submit the demand for a wiretap within 24 hours, but the judge is only required to deliver a judgment on the issue within 48 hours. Currently, the judge needs to deliver a judgment on the issue within 24 hours.

The judge in charge of authorizing the police to conduct wiretaps will be a member of the Ankara High Criminal Court. The opposition fears that a certain judge who has good ties with the ruling party will be chosen for the wiretappings and authorization will be granted by this judge as the government wishes.

The security bill gives the authority to declare a sort of martial law to provincial governors, and to the interior minister if emergency rule is needed for more than one province. The amendments related to emergency rule have been criticized as blatant violations of the Constitution, which gives the authority to declare a state of emergency to the government under certain conditions.

As per the bill, governors will also be able to interfere in criminal procedures and processes by bypassing public prosecutors. The involvement of the governor in the judicial process is viewed as a clear violation of judicial independence by the executive.

The main aim of the bill, according to the government, is to prevent the public order from being disrupted by illegal demonstrations.

The so-called security package came after violent protests staged by sympathizers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in early October to protest the government’s unwillingness to militarily help Kurds defending the Syrian city of Kobani against radical Islamists. Around 50 people lost their lives, and many vehicles and state buildings were heavily damaged during the protests, which mainly took place in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast on Oct. 6-8 of last year.

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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