Turkey chooses a special path toward “domestic security”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a bill on domestic security into law on April 3, which significantly expands powers of the police. Those of our readers who closely watched how the Turkish president pushed the bill down the MPs’ throats might be under an impression that heated debates and discussions took place. After all, there were fistfights in the parliament; televised debates with the participation of opposition parties, who were against the bill unanimously; a 5,000-strong rally of lawyers in Ankara; harsh criticism by the majority of leading Turkish journalists; and even a global protest launched by Freedom House and Human Rights Watch.
However, despite all this, President Erdogan made a categorical statement in his February 20 speech in Elazig Province: “They [the parliamentary opposition] are attempting to block the bill. Do not do that. One way or another, the bill will pass!”
And it did pass. It could not have been otherwise anyway: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), under Mr Erdogan’s leadership, holds the majority—330 of 550—of seats in the country’s parliament. So the 69-article bill in question was signed by the president and entered force. According to many Turkish and foreign experts, this law significantly alters the country’s development curve from a civilised and secular [state] to a traditional oriental dictatorship. And these concerns are based on evidence.
Here are several “novelties.” Until April 3, the Turkish police could detain a citizen suspected of any suspected illegal activity for 24 hours; now it is twice longer. Also, police were required to obtain a court order to do so; police chief’s “blessing” is now sufficient. Combined with other clauses, this particular clause, which caused the most heated debates in the Turkish society, grants police practically unlimited powers. To name only a few: tapping phones without a court sanction, searching citizens up to stripping naked if deemed necessary and vehicles without a court sanction, handing over parts of the prosecutorial powers to local administrations, including the government-appointed governors. The aforementioned clauses are the “most benign” clauses in the new law.
The rest are more serious. For instance, participation in mass events could perhaps be equated with suicide. Think about it—a police officer can shoot if he/she has reason to suspect you are holding an object that poses threat… Shoot with live bullets… And this officer’s actions would be deemed “reasonable” even if you were holding something as simple as a sling or firework, not a Molotov cocktail or weapon. Yes, even a lit match. Further, rally participants may not cover their faces with anything—or face imprisonment for up to three years. Posters and uniforms of banned parties will land one in prison for three years, and so forth. Now the Turkish police may unexpectedly come knocking on your house or office door to search it, because police officers have “suspicions.” A court sanction, you ask? Not necessary any more…
Only several days earlier, Turkey was taking firm and purpose-oriented steps—albeit small ones coupled with worst indicators in the civilised world—towards a full-scale democratic society. One would be even ready to turn the blind eye on the recent blocking of access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as websites of over 150 Turkish newspapers. But now one has justified reasons to claim the Turkish government, headed by its president, has chosen a “special” path of supressing dissent and establishing a police state—a path so beloved by not only former Soviet republics in Central Asia, but many other despotic regimes in the world.
But why did all this happen? What fears and/or considerations motivated President Erdogan to adopt such a decision? What will this lead the Turkish society to? Fergana interviewed Pavel Shlykov, the docent of the Near and Middle East Department of the Asia and Africa Institute under the Moscow State University, who holds a PhD in history and is a well-known expert.
“Undoubtedly, the events on the Taksim Square in 2013, a Turkish-Kurdish conflict in 2014 and the recent killing of a prosecutor piled more on top of the president’s ‘fears.’ However, I would like to discuss history more; specifically, the events in 1960s and 1970s, when Turkey was on the brink of a civil war. A group of officers under General Kenan Evren’s leadership assumed power and was forced to stage mass repressions across the political board ranging from the communists to the radical right to the nationalists. [President] Erdogan, to my mind, has learnt this historical lesson very well and is concerned about such a scenario. So he masterfully used the status quo in the Turkish society, half of which has not made its political choice. That said, this [half] is completely disunited [internally].
“There is another interesting aspect. It is no secret that Erdogan is extremely sensitive when it comes to criticism and has filed numerous lawsuits against various publications in the past. To his credit, though, he would normally withdraw those. Erdogan was able to ‘push through’ the bill on domestic security despite the fact that his opponents wield a very powerful weapon—practically every significant mass media outlet is owned by opposition leaders.
“It is difficult to say what the adoption of this bill, which grants unlimited powers to police, will lead to. Undoubtedly, Turkey is distancing from the model of a civilized state. This [fact] is now very unlikely to give the country a hope to the all-European ‘home,’ which the Turkish society was only recently hoping [to enter],” Dr Shlykov says.