Turkish parliament passes law that will stifle civil society

Turkey's parliament on Dec. 27 passed a law that allows the state to limit non-governmental organizations' activities, including replacing their administration and suspending operations. Under the law, foundations will be inspected annually by civil servants.

Duvar English - Reuters

Turkey's parliament passed a law on Dec. 27 that would ramp up oversight of foundations and associations and, according to rights groups including Amnesty International, risks limiting the freedoms of civil society organizations.

The law allows the interior minister to replace members of organizations who are being investigated for terrorism charges, while the interior ministry can also apply to courts to halt the groups' activities under the new law. International organizations will also be included under the law and penalized accordingly.

Parliament approved the bill - drafted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which holds a parliamentary majority with its allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - early on Dec. 27, the assembly said on Twitter.

The bill that is actually called the “Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” was submitted by the AKP last week.

Earlier this week, seven civil society organizations, including Human Rights Association and Amnesty, said in a statement that terrorism charges in Turkey were arbitrary, adding the law violates the presumption of innocence and punishes those whose trials are not finalized.

"Given that thousands of civil society activists, journalists, politicians, members of professional organizations are investigated within the scope of [anti-terrorism law], there is no doubt that this law will target almost all opponent associations," said the organizations.

Foundations to be inspected

Investigations based on terrorism charges have been launched against hundreds of thousands of people under a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016. Members of Amnesty and other civil society groups have been investigated and tried, while hundreds of foundations were also shut down with decrees.

Critics say Erdoğan's government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent. The government says the measures are necessary given the security threats facing Turkey.

Under the law, foundations will be inspected annually by civil servants. Local governors or the Interior Minister can block online donation campaigns under a measure to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering.

Fines of up to 200,000 Turkish Liras ($26,500.60) can be levied, compared to a previous maximum of 700 liras, in a move the seven organizations said will "in practice lead to the closure of many associations."