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Alarm Grows Over Turkish Security Legislation

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - Youths set fire to barricades in Diyarbakir, Turkey, hours after Kurds protesting the Islamic State advance on Kobani, Syria, had clashed with police, Oct. 8, 2014.

FILE - Youths set fire to barricades in Diyarbakir, Turkey, hours after Kurds protesting the Islamic State advance on Kobani, Syria, had clashed with police, Oct. 8, 2014.

Parliamentary opposition parties and the European Union are asking Turkish leaders to reconsider proposed new security legislation, but the government insists tough measures are needed following violent protests last October.

One of the most controversial aspects of the legislation allows police to detain people without trial and search homes without court orders. The new legislation also says those who cover their faces fully or partially during protests could be sent to prison for up to five years.

Additionally, police officers will be authorized to use lethal force against individuals who attack schools, public buildings and worship areas with Molotov cocktails, explosives or any other weapons.

The reforms were drafted in the aftermath of October’s nationwide protests by Turkey’s Kurdish minority in which nearly 50 people died.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the reforms mark an alarming transfer of power to the police.

"The latest bill is all about increasing police powers, often bypassing judicial supervision, bypassing judges, courts, prosecutors, and that's very worrying," Sinclair-Webb said. "The safety of the public is, of course, important but you can’t protect the safety of the public at the expense of human rights, and this what the latest draft law proposes.”

Erosion of rights feared

Earlier this week, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, called on the Turkish government to reconsider the new security legislation, warning it could lead to an erosion of human rights.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of the far-right National Action Party, said the law would take Turkey back to the times of martial law when the army ruled the country.

The co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party, Figen Yuksekdag, also criticized the proposed legislation and warned of serious consequences if passed. She said Turkey needs more peace and freedom, not policies for oppression, and if adopted, the legislation could threaten the security of the general election in June.

Leading members of the pro-Kurdish party have warned that adoption of the legislation could affect ongoing peace efforts to end the four-decade-long insurgency by the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.

Davutoglu defends legislation

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed such concerns, claiming the law complies with EU standards. He called on critics to point out any clause that violated universal democratic standards. He contended they could not, insisting that the government had shown sensitivity in order not to deviate from such standards.

Sinclair-Webb, the Human Rights Watch researcher, warned that with the new law extending police powers to use lethal force against anyone using explosives during protests, more deaths during demonstrations were likely.

“We have a very bad precedent for this in Turkey," she said. "A lot of misuse of firearms and a lot of [execution-style] killings by police already, a long history of that. A long history of failing to properly investigate such crimes. So we are very afraid that this measure will open the way to more use of firearms and death during demonstrations.”

The government insists the measures are aimed only at protecting people and property, but observers warn the proposed legislation is likely to exacerbate the deepening political polarization in Turkey and add to concerns among many that the country is rapidly becoming an authoritarian state.

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