Turkey poised to replace emergency law with doppelganger

Call it what you will, Turkey's restrictive new "anti-terror package" looks suspiciously like the state of emergency the president imposed for the past two years.

al-monitor People walk past an election poster for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 14, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir.
Pinar Tremblay

Pinar Tremblay


Topics covered

Turkey elections

Jul 23, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has kept his vague election promise to end emergency law after two years, allowing it to expire July 18. Its replacement, however, appears to be as bad or worse.

The end of emergency law doesn't mean the end of restrictions on individual freedoms. Indeed, opposition figures said on social media that it's as if emergency law is now being extended for three more years. The reason for these concerns is a proposed bill, known as the “anti-terror package,” currently under review by parliament.

The anti-terror package, written by the newly minted ministers, arrived at parliament July 18. By July 20, it had cleared committee and is now being debated before parliament with a high probability to be passed as is.

This bill will make Erdogan’s dream of swift legislation and execution possible, ending any sort of deliberation and oversight. Mehmet Ucum, one of Erdogan's senior advisers, summed it up handily: “The [new] system doesn't allow quarrels. If there are disagreements about personal choices, the system permits those to be discarded as well, because there is only one decision-maker. Dissenters will be replaced in one night and in their place there will be people appointed who will do the job right.”

The proposed bill summarizes how this will be done. The four most crucial categories are outlined below.

Fear of the military: Even before the July 2016 botched coup, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had gone through a series of reforms and arrests. According to government sources, 15,000 TSK personnel were dismissed during the past two years. In a surprising move earlier this month, Erdogan appointed Gen. Hulusi Akar as defense minister. At the time, Akar was the active-duty chief of general staff.

Although pro-government figures report this as a sign of comfortable relations with the TSK, the proposed anti-terror bill has several articles showing strong distrust. A retired military judge told Al-Monitor, “Reading the proposal, I was ashamed. This is disgraceful for any member of the TSK, whether a general or a conscript. The army, which used to be the most trusted institution in this country since its establishment, is now under constant surveillance.”

The judge’s comments are based on the ambiguous wording of the articles, which suggest the government can investigate members of the armed forces, and even search and seize their private property, including their cars and homes. If a soldier is being expelled, there will no longer be a need to wait for a court order to strip off his or her stars and stripes; that can be done immediately.

Protests: The first article grants extensive responsibilities to state-appointed governors. According to the bill, governors will have the right to keep individuals or groups they deem dangerous from entering their cities, or certain sections of the cities, for as long as 15 days. How this law can be effectively enforced is unknown, especially since there are no current checkpoints at city entrances. Also, governors are granted the right to forbid people from gathering at certain places and during certain times. This article also allows governors to ban transportation of any ammunition or guns, even if they are licensed.

The rest of the bill also has several items that restrict freedom of expression, the press and assembly. For example, all group events in public spaces need to end before sunset. Indoor gatherings must end by midnight. The most interesting part bans all protests that “would make the lives of residents unbearably difficult.” This vague statement could easily be used to justify any number of situations in major cities.

In addition, the bill calls for extending the right of police to keep a suspect in custody for up to 48 hours in routine crimes, but up to four days for those suspected of being involved in group crimes, including, for example, protests or strikes. This time frame can be extended twice, allowing for 12 days in custody without any formal charges. There is serious concern here, as several lawyers explained to Al-Monitor: Prosecutors prepare their charges based on the answers and reactions a suspect gives while in custody. Longer times in custody allow for confessions taken under duress.

The right to travel abroad, and guilt by association: Any expelled government employee, or anyone under investigation, may lose their right to leave the country as their passports may be revoked. The same restrictions apply to a suspect’s spouse and immediate family members.

Officials will no longer need a court order to access a suspect's computer; a prosecutor’s note will suffice. Similarly, they can tap the phones of a suspect's immediate family.

While the proposed system promises efficiency and speed, it would bring delays for those seeking justice and also in the application of justice. Previously, the courts had three days for answer requests to be released; now they have 30 days.

Expanding spoils and the patronage system: Emergency law affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey. For example, more than 130,000 government employees have been laid off from their positions. Agreeing that the haphazard decisions have led to injustice, the government established in January 2017 an “Emergency Law Commission” with the authority to reinstate employees — but so far only 1,300 employees have been reinstated, out of 108,905 applicants.

Under the new legislation, each ministry would determine who among its employees should be dismissed or charged. If the workers are acquitted, they're not likely to be reinstated to their original positions. For soldiers and police officers, their ranks could be reinstated unless blocked by their ministries (defense for soldiers, Interior Ministry for police officers). If they are reinstated, they will probably be employed in different places.

A senior bureaucrat told Al-Monitor, “Those expelled will be posted to what we commonly refer to as the pool. But there will also be personnel who aren't expelled, but their agencies are shut down due to the transition to the [executive presidency]. From this pool, different agencies will hire and relocate them.” Wrongly expelled personnel cannot seek compensation from the government. For acquitted academics, the situation is even more complicated, as the Higher Education Board is to decide where they will be rehired. For example, a successful professor in a well-established university who is reinstated will be most likely to be sent to a newly established college in a small city.

Given that most of the people currently occupying government jobs are supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), why would they be removed without being allowed to come back to their positions if acquitted? The hush-hush answer is that those positions would by then be promised to better AKP supporters. “We are removing the callused, inefficient figures from the government agencies,” said one senior bureaucrat. “The new government is much inspired by the Trump administration. We will run it like a private corporation. If you don't fit in anymore, we will replace you promptly.”

These new rules are proposed to be in effect for three years, while emergency law was being renewed every three months. That's why several independent lawyers concur that the new system is worse than the expired emergency law in terms of individual freedoms, human rights and any sort of dissent.

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