ISTANBUL — Last month the Turkish government unveiled its so-called democratization package, which included everything from a lifting of a headscarf ban to new multilingual education and reform of the national electoral law.
Now comes another legislative push, but this time it would include a series of measures to increase the authority of the police over citizens. The most critical feature of the package being introduced to Parliament is that it would allow authorities to enforce preventive detentions from 12 to 24 hours. This practice will no longer require an order from a judge or a prosecutor as it did before, and will allow police to directly detain whoever they deem likely to stage an illegal protest or otherwise cause trouble.
There were talks of increasing the authority of the police, following the protests earlier this year against a proposed construction project in Istanbul's Gezi Park. But this has since been expanded into a major series of legislation regarding law enforcement. The “Law Enforcement Inspection Board” which was formerly slated to be included in the democratization package is included in this one instead, with the Turkish Ministries of Interior and Justice now cooperating on the project.
The new bill stipulates that organizations that are considered likely to stage protests and cause trouble are to be duly followed by law enforcement agencies. If police verify such actions are being planned, they can autonomously choose to detain members of these organizations for 12 to 24 hours; a court order can extend this period.
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Police action during Gezi Park protests — Photo: Mstyslav Chernov
The current practice for preventive detention requires a prosecutor or judge to issue an order, which has been used against Kurds before Newroz celebrations, as well as on May 1 rallies and soccer matches, already sparking protests from civil liberty groups.
Other measures proposed in the bill include:
The new package will also increase penalties for resisting police and damaging public property. Articles 152 and 265 of the Turkish Penal Code are to be rewritten for that purpose. Increasing punishments for using violence against or threatening civil servants is also in the plans.
According to the draft, the Molotov cocktail is to be defined as “handmade tool of offense or defense formed by inflammable or combustible material,” and anyone who stocks or carries one will face prison sentences from three to five years. If the Molotov is to be used by a criminal organization, the penalties will be able to be increased by half.
Another increase of penalty is planned for covering one's face during protests and similar events. According to Turkish laws, the police do not arrest people: Suspects are detained and the courts issues the order for their arrest. Since arrest is not used for offenses that lead to prison charges of less than two years, the package will include a reform for allowing the court to arrest the suspect in case they repeat the violation that would not require arrest otherwise.
A “Law Enforcement Inspection Board” is expected to be part of the draft of the package. The reform would allow for the inspection of law enforcement into alleged violations of human rights. NGOs have demanded that the board charged with investigating police behavior should be formed by civilian and neutral members. It is said that the government is considering this board to counter any criticisms of a “police state” that this new legislation may provoke.