Rights activists condemn Turkey’s new bill, which proposes Big Brother-type surveillance

Turkey

Human rights activists strongly condemned the new bill introduced by the Turkish government, which the rights defenders said would lead to Big Brother-type surveillance, threatening the democratic and liberal fabric of many civil society actors.The bill, which is expected to be discussed and passed in the parliament this week, was proposed in response to increasing financial crimes in the country.

The ruling government, headed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that the draft law would be able to curb financing of weapon proliferation. The state justified overstepping few liberties enjoyed by organisations as Ankara was on the brink of being placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) “gray list” due to insufficient measures against financial crimes.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the proposed bill was that it provided the government with a freewill offering including the controversial articles allowing the government to appoint trustees to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Besides, it also gave the ruling party the right to temporarily suspend the activities of organisations and their assets if its members faced a terror-related investigation.

Many observers believed that the newly proposed law, run the risk of being abused by the Turkish authorities. Turkey has a history of using similar legislations for cracking down on dissidents, including mayors in Kurdish-led municipalities, ex-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) or members of left-wing associations. The worrying example of this scenario was that several municipalities, earlier government by the HDP, were now controlled by government-appointed trustees.The report said that the proposed bill, would empower the authorities to monitor the financial transactions and fund raising activities of the organisations, bringing them under the preview of the Interior Ministry.

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On Monday, Engin Altay, the CHP’s deputy parliamentary head said, “The government has introduced a lot of irrelevant items in the draft bill. These provisions can be used randomly against the associations, which would result in the closure of all democratic channels.”Ozturk Turkdogan, president of Turkey’s Human Rights Association, condemned the new bill for stifling the freedom of various organisations. He said, “If there is an element of crime, it is possible to launch a criminal investigation against the activities of associations. But, making this as a regular initiative of the state authorities would interfere into the internal affairs of civil society organizations.”“If it is legislated and if it is not vetoed by the president, we will resort all relevant legislation to the jurisdiction, and we will make sure that this overt intervention into our civil sphere becomes visible on the international platforms,” he added.

In a collective move, about 22 human rights organizations, part of the Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders, raised the complaint regarding Turkey’s increasing grip over these organisations, who had already lost a significant chunk of their operational space due to coronavirus restrictions. Several organisations have been prohibited to hold their general assemblies before Feb. 28, and all outdoor protests have been banned for throughout the year. Besides, the authorities also arrested and questioned several doctors for criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic.

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