Turkey Considers Anti-Terror Legislation as State of Emergency Ends After Two Years

Turkey's ruling party has proposed anti-terrorism legislation that will extend certain trademarks of the postcoup political order, as the nation's state of emergency ends after two years.

A three-month state of emergency was initially imposed after a violent coup attempt in July 2016 left 250 people dead and more than 2,000 injured, but it was eventually extended for a total of two years. Emergency provisions such as executive rule by decree will expire on Wednesday at midnight, but the government has proposed legislation to extend certain measures implemented under the state of emergency.

If the contested anti-terrorism legislation is passed, the Justice and Development Party–led government will be able to detain certain crime suspects without charge for up to 12 days. Agence France-Presse reported protests and gatherings will be prohibited in public areas after sunset unless approved by the government. Additionally, the government can fire civil servants who are allegedly linked to terror organizations.

The government has arrested at least 160,000 people and dismissed 170,000 public workers since the coup attempt, claiming it is eliminating terrorism. The purges have sought to limit the influence of political opponents and individuals linked to the movement of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's former political ally Fethullah Gülen, who the government blames for the coup, and supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting the government for independence since 1984.

Opposition politicians have criticized the legislative proposal as an informal extension of the state of emergency. “With the measures of this text, the state of emergency will not be extended for three months, but for three years,” said Özgür Özel, the head of the parliamentary faction for the Republican People's Party.

Before the state of emergency's expiration, Amnesty International advocated improving the country's democratic processes. “The lifting of the state of emergency alone will not reverse this crackdown,” Amnesty International's Deputy Europe Director Fotis Filippou said. “What is needed is systematic action to restore respect for human rights, allow civil society to flourish again and lift the suffocating climate of fear that has engulfed the country.”

But Steven Cook, the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for the Middle East and Africa Studies at the New York–based Council on Foreign Relations, said he did not predict the state of emergency removal would bring more democratic processes.

“The problem with democratic practices in Turkey was not the state of emergency. After a period of reform 2003 to 2005, the Turks have been backsliding to the point where the country's political system is an elected autocracy,” Cook told Newsweek. “This all predates the renewed fight with the PKK in 2015 and the failed coup in 2016.”

RTX6BXMB
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wave national flags as they listen to him in Taksim Square, in Istanbul, on August 10, 2016. Turkey’s state of emergency ended on July 18 after being in place for two years. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File photo

When he first announced the state of emergency, Erdoğan framed the expanded executive powers as a way to preserve democracy in Turkey. “The aim is to rapidly and effectively take all steps needed to eliminate the threat against democracy, the rule of law and the people's rights and freedoms,” he said in July 2016. “This measure is in no way against democracy, the law and freedoms. On the contrary, it aims to protect and strengthen them.”

Human rights organizations and opposition government officials have contested Erdoğan's justification for the state of emergency, saying it was being used in ways that damaged democratic processes.

"The cabinet's decision to extend the state of emergency would further endanger human rights and the rule of law, which have already been badly damaged in Turkey under the state of emergency," Human Rights Watch said in a report last year.