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Turkey passes law granting immunity to soldiers fighting 'terrorism'

Turkey's defence minister hails the new law as an 'Eid gift' for soldiers fighting Kurdish militants in the country
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan breaks his fast at an Iftar dinner with soldiers of the 70th Mechanized Infantry Brigade Command in Mardin (AFP)

Turkey has passed a law granting immunity to soldiers fighting Kurdish militants in the southeast, a move that human rights activists warn will “encourage abuses".

The law, passed by the Turkish parliament late on Thursday, was hailed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which said it would boost the confidence of soldiers fighting “terrorists” in the country’s southeast.

“This law is an Eid gift for our brave security forces who are courageously fighting terrorists in the region,” Defense Minister Fikri Isik told parliament.

“It is a very important law that will boost their morale and motivation.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, warned on Saturday that the immunity law could see abuses by the military proliferate in the southeast:

The armed forces have been involved in military operations against groups affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) after a two-year ceasefire between the group and the Turkish state broke down in July 2015.

According to the original draft bill produced by the defence ministry, an offence committed by the security services will be deemed a “military crime” and will be tried in a military court.

Among other aspects of the bill, the investigation and trial processes of commanders and the chief of general staff will also require the prime minister’s permission.

In addition, it will enable army commanders to issue emergency search warrants for houses, work places or other private spaces.

Civil servants engaged in counter-terrorism activities will also be protected from prosecution.

The law was passed with the backing of three of the four major political parties in the Turkish parliament.

The far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in particular, said the law was “long overdue”.

However, the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP) denounced the bill as a "coup agreement between the government and the military".

It warned that the new law would hand unprecedented powers over to the military in a fashion similar to those which existed at the height of the PKK guerilla war in the 1990s.

The AKP curbed the previously overweaning power of the military after it came to power in the 2000s.

However, in recent years - particularly after the reigniting of the PKK conflict - there has been speculation that the army is regaining its former power and coming to detente with the AKP.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week claimed that the Turkish military had killed more than 7,600 members of the PKK in Iraq and Turkey, a figure heavily disputed by the group.

More than 40,000 people have died since the PKK launched its armed struggle agains the Turkish state for an independent Kurdistan in 1984, with human rights abuses reported on both sides.

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