Turkish Government Aims To Increase Police Powers

Clashes in Istanbul on June 15, 2013
Clashes in Istanbul on June 15, 2013
Nuray Babacan

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.

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:

Harsher punishments
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.

Molotov Cocktails
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.

Repeat offenders
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.

Internal affairs
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.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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