The Turkish government has proposed new legislation to give police heightened powers to break up demonstrations. Opposition parties and human rights groups worry that the measures will turn Turkey into a police state.
Physical confrontations are not uncommon in the Turkish parliament, but the last two weeks saw escalations reach new levels. One member of parliament fell down the stairs in a scuffle, while others were injured by projectiles or punches. Even the chairman's gavel and bell were used as weapons in a heated parliamentary brawl.
The trigger for the fighting was a controversial security bill consisting of over 100 amendments. With it, the government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu plans to give police greater stop and search powers. It would also allow police to detain people for up to 48 hours before being presented to a judge or an attorney, as well as use firearms against protesters. Demonstrators who cover their faces with masks or scarves during rallies could face years in prison.
Davutoglu claimed that the measures were necessary to protect social order and prevent violent clashes such as the one that broke out last year between Kurds, supporters of an Islamist group and police. He also insisted the planned amendments conformed to EU norms and made mention of new measures to curb police brutality.
Doubts about true motives
However, Turkish opposition parties are concerned that the laws would allow the police to suppress any political dissent with the use of force. They have called on the government to withdraw the bill. Even former Turkish president Abdullah Gül - a co-founder of the conservative AKP party - warned against the adoption of the legislation and demanded improvements.
With 312 seats out of 550, the AKP has an absolute majority in the Turkish parliament, but this isn't stopping the opposition from doing everything it can to slow down the negotiations concerning the bill. As a result, only around two dozen out of the 130 proposed laws have been adopted so far. But the opposition isn't expected to have the votes to stop the adoption of the entire packet by late March at the latest.
A threat to the rule of law?
Like other government critics, Metin Bakkalci, the general secretary of Tukey's Human Rights Association (TIHV), is pessimistic about the outcomes if the laws are adopted.
According to Bakkalci, the rule of law and the separation of powers are being eroded in Turkey. He added that this was the first time that judicial powers were being given to police officers, who need to follow governmental instructions.
The Turkish government is arguing that the proposals are in line with EU standards. Bakkalci finds this absurd. He pointed out that binding norms, such as the European Convention on Human Rights clearly prescribe how to deal with suspects in police custody. "There is nothing in there about the police only needing to hand over an arrested person to the authorities after 48 hours," he said.
The EU, the Council of Europe and international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also criticized the government's plans. The Turkish Bar Association, meanwhile, sees the situation as the start of a "regime of fear."
Little impact on election results expected
Until now, however, the Turkish government hasn't indicated it is ready to make major changes. According to prominent opinion pollster Adil Gür, Davutoglu and the AKP can afford to maintain its rigid stance just months before the June 7 parliamentary elections. Even though the proposed laws are being strongly criticized, Gür pointed out that the current critics are not people who vote for AKP anyhow.
For the governing AKP, the protests do not pose a threat. "The voters mainly look at the economic developments and ask, 'Am I satisfied with my life?'" said Gür.
According to Gür, Turkish voters are also following the peace negotiations between the government and Kurdish rebel group PKK. But they are not interested in the content of the new anti-demonstration laws. "In my surveys this didn't appear as a controversial issue," he said.
This is likely one reason why Prime Minister Davutoglu expects he can push the new bill through parliament without any changes.