INSTANBUL - Turkey's parliament passed a controversial bill changing the system of bar associations, the official Anadolu news agency reported Saturday, as critics say it will hamper lawyers' independence.
The law -- backed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist ally MHP party -- will allow legal professionals to set up their own associations and enforces a minimum membership of 2,000 for any association.
While the AKP has said the changes will bring competition to the legal field, lawyers fear the legislation could drastically weaken the power of oversight enjoyed by the associations -- some of which are critical of the government.
The main opposition party has said it will appeal to Turkey's top Constitutional Court.
Last month, lawyers marched to the capital Ankara in protest -- but were initially blocked by the police from entering the city.
The government's plan to allow multiple bar associations appears calculated to divide the legal profession along political lines and diminish the largest associations' role as a watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission of Jurists said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Turkey's prominent bar associations play a key role in defending fair trial rights and scrutinizing human rights at a time when flagrant violation of rights is the norm in Turkey," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.