The Turkish parliament was Tuesday to start a much-delayed debate on a contentious security bill boosting the powers of police to crack down on protests, which activists fear will effectively create a police state under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The so-called “homeland security reform” bill was submitted to parliament by the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) after deadly pro-Kurdish protests in October.
With the opposition threatening to hold up the work of parliament in protest at the bill, the opening of debates had been postponed repeatedly over the last weeks.
The debate was further delayed Tuesday by motions over the murder of a female student that has shocked Turkey. But the issue was still registered to be debated later in the evening.
The bill broadens police powers to carry out searches during protests and gives police the powers to detain people for up to 48 hours without the authorisation of a prosecutor.
It also permits police to use firearms to prevent an attack in a public place against people using Molotov cocktails or similar weapons.
It gives provincial governors the authority to instruct police to pursue suspects, without needing to go through the judiciary.
AFP / Yuri Cortez
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the new “homeland security reform” bill must be put in place as soon as possible
Erdogan said Tuesday the bill should have been legislated long before, adding that it was a step that came “late.”
“The homeland security law must rapidly pass right now and be put into practice as soon as possible.”
The president also warned protesters that they had no chance of changing the country’s course under his leadership.
“I want to appeal to those who… think they can change the country’s direction through a couple of street protests, Molotovs: You will not succeed. You are working in vain. This train will not go off the track,” he said.
– ‘It will explode’ –
In a note to lawmakers, the AKP stood behind the legislation and said it was compatible with the EU laws, describing it as a “package protecting freedoms”.
It argued that in countries such as Austria, Italy, Germany and Britain security forces are granted the right to search people and vehicles without prior authorisation.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter: “Turkey can’t hide behind EU laws to justify its sorry record of police abuse and detention of non-violent protesters.”
AFP / Adem Altan
Fires blaze on the streets of Ankara during protests in 2013
The bill has been submitted after Erdogan was shaken by protests in 2013 against his rule which were eventually broken up by tough police tactics.
But the ostensible trigger for the bill was violent protests in southeastern Turkey and Istanbul on October 6-7 over Turkey’s Syria policy. The protests left scores of people dead.
The draft sparked outrage among lawyers and opposition parties and around 3,000 lawyers rallied to the parliament on Monday in protest at the bill.
Levent Gok, of the main opposition CHP party, said it would increase police violence and undermine the right to life and called on Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to withdraw what he called an “atomic bomb.”
“Hey, prime minister — this is an atomic bomb, it will explode in your hand,” he said.
If passed, the law risks jeopardising the peace process between the Turkish government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK’s political wing KCK said in a statement on Sunday that the security bill would put the Kurdish peace process “in danger,” adding that it would lead to more authoritarianism.
Government officials have been locked in talks with Kurdish representatives in the hope of reaching a deal on disarmament of the separatist rebels by Kurdish New Year in March.