“The end of Turkey’s state of emergency should have been a good sign for human rights, but the draft law makes clear that the government’s plan is to end it in name only,”
Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch
Turkey finally ending its 2-year state of emergency last week was a move that should have signalled a move towards more secure times. But conversely a new draft bill has been passed that could put an end to the rule of law and maintain the systemic abuse of power that has been in operation since the state of emergency was declared in 2016.
Why the state of emergency?
The state of emergency was declared on 20 July 2016 after a coup attempt and clashes killed at least 290 people and injuring 1,400.
And affected the Turkish people and their democratic freedoms in a number of ways including curfews and restricting access to public group meetings, changing the way in which laws are passed by bypassing the constitutional court and restrictions on press and NGO freedoms. As the biggest jailer of journalists in the world an estimated 120 have been imprisoned since the coup attempt.
During the two year-long state of emergency security forces were permitted stronger enforcement of laws, giving them increased powers of arrest and detention. This meant that Erdoğan could use this period to clampdown on dissenters. A resulting 120,000 individuals have been dismissed or detained in this time in the fields of academia, police, military, media and civil service, each over their alleged links to Fethullah Gulen.
Re-election of Erdoğan and increased powers
The re-election of President Erdoğan last month meant that he gained new executive powers increasing his ability to wield repressive restrictions over personal freedoms.
He has been described as the most popular leader in modern Turkish history and won this recent election with a landslide 53%. Despite this apparent popularity, recurring human rights abuses, and in particular his repression of a free media in Turkey, have had his opponents and human rights defenders from the international community up in arms. Just the day before his swearing in 18,600 public servants were dismissed on alleged terror charges.
The results of this election mean that he will serve a 5-year term and will remain president until 2023.
Containing 23-articles, the draft anti-terrorism bill states its purpose as being to:
“effectively combat existing terrorist organizations in ordinary times” and prevent coup attempts to “protect fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution.”
However, a number of the laws drafted in the bill are in direct contradiction to some ‘freedoms’ protected in international human rights laws.
The new draft bill has effectively extended some of the powers that were in operation during the state of emergency period for another three years. One of these includes a draft to extend powers to local authorities to impose curfews at will.
Another treacherous measure would be the ability for police to hold individuals on terrorism charges for up to 12 days without any charges being pressed. In addition, having the power to dismiss any court judge further emphasises the political control over the judiciary in Turkey.
The draft law also creates restrictions in an individual’s right to free movement on the basis of public order laws, which have been described as ‘vague’. This seems to be an attempt to slow down any opportunity for organised protest or demonstration but infringes on freedoms of movement.
Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director, said ‘While such powers could be used for legitimate aims, such as preventing armed insurgency, there is nothing to prevent them from being arbitrarily and discriminately applied to people exercising the right to peaceful protest and assembly or to any form of travel within Turkey.’
Despite having won the elections on the premise of having improved the Turkish economy, Erdoğan now faces a number of challenges. Increasingly watched and criticised by the international community, it seems likely that the abuse of power cannot be sustainable in Turkey. With an estimated 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, the economy is starting to feel the strain. It is highly questionable therefore whether Erdoğan’s popularity will withstand the pressured economy as well as the continued climate of intimidation felt amongst Turkish civil society.