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Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - Members of the Turkish Parliament convene in Ankara, March 19, 2014.

FILE - Members of the Turkish Parliament convene in Ankara, March 19, 2014.

Turkey’s parliament has approved legislation to bolster the powers of the country’s intelligence service, which the government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats the country faces. But opponents say the measure will deepen a trend towards greater authoritarianism by the government.

Late Thursday, the Turkish Parliament passed contentious new legislation that will greatly enhance the powers of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, or M.I.T.

Law Professor Istar Gozaydin of Istanbul’s Dogus University says the new legislation is unprecedented in powers and scope.

"This much broader and much more ambiguous which limits the freedoms of expression, the freedoms of press, and communication. In the context of intelligence no accountability can be provided, so its very severe legislation that the system has never seen," said Gozaydin.

The measure, which requires presidential approval before it becomes a law, would give the M.I.T. access to information collected by public and private institutions without a court order and would expand its ability to carry out covert operations.

The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, slammed the legislation.

"Turkey is rapidly turning into an intelligence state with the M.I.T," he said. "In Germany, they founded the Gestapo. Was it legal? Yes, it was legal. But it didn’t give intelligence to the state, but rather the party. The same incident is taking place here."

Adding to those concerns is a senior deputy for the ruling AKP, Burhan Kuzu, who posted on the social media website Twitter: “When the MIT law is enacted, we will be able to enter the lairs of traitors inside and outside the country and what is necessary will be done.”

Those words echoed the threat made by Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan after his victory in last month’s local elections.

But the government insists it is facing an extraordinary threat to the security of the state by followers of Fetullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Osman Can, a former judge and member of the ruling AK Party’s central executive committee, claims they are defending democracy.

"The Gulenists movement, in the judiciary and in the police department, they have the power. They have the facility to instrumentalize, for shaping policy. And it is not democratic. And, it is also illegal," he said.

The government accuses Gulen followers of trying to sabotage peace efforts by the M.I.T. with the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.

Analysts say the intelligence agency is one of a few state institutions the government trusts. Its chief, Hakan Fidan, is also a close ally and confidant of the prime minister.

Soli Ozel, political columnist for the Turkish newspaper Haber Turk, says the new law is part of an alarming trend.

"This is a triad. This is the Internet law, the changes to the higher council of judges and prosecutors, which basically make the judiciary an extension of the executive. So all of this basically leads us in one direction. That is, it’s not just that our state is unraveling but our democracy or democratic standards," said Ozel.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul still has to ratify the new intelligence law, a move widely expected. Opposition parties will likely refer the law to the constitutional court. Observers say the new intelligence legislation, if its referred to the constitutional court, it is likely to come under intense scrutiny.