Turkey looks set to swap one state of emergency for another
ISTANBUL - When the clock struck midnight on Wednesday, Turkey's state of emergency was officially over - and yet new legislation could see many of its controversial provisions remain for at least another three years.
The draft law, which will be presented to the Turkish parliament on Thursday and is set to be put to a vote on Monday, has been prepared by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a way of moving forward from the state of emergency that has given President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government sweeping powers since a 2016 coup attempt was foiled.
The bill's backers say its regulations will help ease Turkey out of the tumultuous period it has witnessed over the past two years, while still providing security.
AKP MP Bulent Turan, who submitted the draft law to parliament, told reporters on Monday that it is necessary to protect the state from the movement of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which the government blames for the coup attempt, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long militant campaign.
“They [the draft law's regulations] are all limited to a three-year period. Not all of them are in the shadow of the state of emergency, there are some regulations that reflect the continuation of democracy,” he said.
Cahit Ozkan, the deputy chairman of AKP's parliamentary bloc, told Middle East Eye the new law has a three-year limit because that is the length of time needed to rid Turkey of the Gulenists.
We held meetings with our intelligence, police and related ministries, and decided that we need another three years
- Cahit Ozkan, AKP
"We held meetings with our intelligence, police and related ministries, and decided that we need another three years to remove this terror group to the core from our country. That’s why we limited the law up to three years. After that, we plan to turn back to normal rule of law," he said.
Ozkan said that European countries have similar laws, and denied the new legislation was a continuation of the state of emergency.
"What democracy means is to protect basic rights and freedom of our citizens and at the same time to provide their security and national unity," he said.
"Almost none of our citizens were affected negatively by the state of emergency over the last two years, and we were able to be very successful in our fight against FETO [Gulen’s movement], we cleaned most of them from the public institutions. Now we are turning back to constitutional order, but with the rules that will help us to fight against terror.
"This new law is in compliance with the laws of European Union countries. We aim to permanently remove FETO from our country. If we wanted to make the state of emergency permanent, instead of bringing in new laws we wouldn’t lift it!"
Freedoms and the economy
Five days after the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, the government issued the state of emergency, subsequently extending it seven times for three-month periods.
Under the emergency rules, 125,806 people were dismissed from public institutions, the army and the police, accused of having links to the Gulen movement. More than 50,000 people were detained and nearly 200,000 passports were annulled.
In the run-up to Turkey's 24 June presidential and parliamentary elections, Erdogan was moved to follow the suit of his challengers and promise to lift the state of emergency after the polls.
Opposition parties, however, have complained that many of the new law's regulations are barely a departure from the state of emergency's ones.
Akif Hamzacebi, deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) parliamentary bloc, told MEE that the new laws will both stifle freedoms and have a negative effect on Turkey's already ailing economy.
What we should do is to turn back to democracy, but with this draft law they are trying to make the state of emergency permanent
- Akif Hamzacebi, CHP
"The state of emergency had negative effects on our democracy and economy. Because of the state of emergency, the number of foreign investments to our country has been reduced and inflation, interest rates and the current deficit are higher now. The main reason is because Turkey is getting far away from democracy," he said.
"What we should do is to turn back to democracy, but with this draft law they are trying to make the state of emergency permanent. They are not lifting it today, they are turning it into a law."
Hamzacebi rejected the idea that the new regulations would only be in place for three years, saying the ruling AKP could simply renew them if it was still in power.
"It’s even worse than the state of emergency because that can be lifted, but the law cannot be changed, as they have the majority in the parliament," he said.
Many of the new regulations would be identical or very similar to those in place under the state of emergency.
One article of the 25-paragraph draft law says that, much like under the emergency regulations, provincial governors can restrict the movement of people under suspicion in and out of certain areas, such as streets, neighbourhoods or even towns. The governors would also have the authority to ban any meetings and rallies they wish.
If passed as expected, the law will reduce the length of time someone can be detained without charge from seven days to two. In some circumstances, for instance if additional evidence needs to be collected, that period can be extended to up to six days, down from 14 under the state of emergency. Before the coup attempt, people could only be detained for 24 hours, extended to 48 in special circumstances.
Under the new law, authorities would retain the right to make sweeping dismissals of staff in state institutions, as before. It says civil servants or officers “who are considered to have ties with or to be the members of terror organisations or any groups that work against the national security of Turkey” can be dismissed without a court ruling. Those employees and their spouses’ passports can be annulled.
Another regulation in the draft law that has attracted criticism is the one allowing police to access private information about those dismissed and their spouses, including phone records and bank accounts.
However, unlike under the state of emergency, civil servants and officers who are dismissed now would have the right to legally object. If found not guilty, they can return to their posts in 30 days, but cannot ask for any compensation.
Though the AKP's 290 MPs are not enough to pass the legislation in Turkey's 600-seat parliament on Monday alone, its ultra-nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is expected to support it and see the bill through.