Müzeyyen Yüce/ DUVAR

Following the submission of a bill to parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that seeks to widen the powers of the watchmen that have been patrolling the streets of Istanbul and other cities in Turkey since 2017, critics are concerned that the government is attempting to create a parallel police force and establish its own army. 

The watchmen previously worked with the police force, while the AKP’s proposed bill will enable them to work with gendarmerie officers, stop criminals in the act of a crime, preserve evidence at a crime scene and ensure that it remains in place. 

“We aren’t entirely against the [proposed] law. The previous watchmen law needs to be updated and some articles need to be revised. The watchmen should not be taking verbal exams but written exams. They should not have a minimum of a middle school education but should at least be high school graduates,” said main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ali Öztunç.

“The seventh article of the bill grants all police authority to the watchmen. In that case what is the need for police? The watchmen would be granted the right to search with their hands and pat people down. Will a watchman that sees a female student at midnight search her with his hands? This article is unacceptable and needs to be amended. These are our basic objections. They are creating a parallel police force,” Öztünç added. 

Meanwhile, Murat Yılmaz, Ankara branch head of the Modern Lawyers Assocation, said that by granting extended powers to the watchmen, the AKP is attempting to create its own army. 

“They haven’t received job training, and you cannot achieve results giving widened authority to incompetent people. This situation at times can put the watchmen against citizens. By granting the watchmen the same powers as police, you are creating a de-facto army,” Yılmaz said.