Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Turkey sets out to expand government control over civil society groups

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Turkey has passed a law that expands government control over civil society groups, a move that human rights activists say could lead to the shutdown of non-governmental organizations and limit remaining dissent in the country.

Legislation passed by parliament on Sunday authorizes the interior
ministry to appoint members in NGOs and stop their activities
vague accusations of terrorism. It also introduces an expensive government
inspections of civil society groups and limits online fundraising activities.

“This law gives the Minister of the Interior the power to close
down any group when it wants with no chance to appeal. he
raises the possibility that all rights groups will be abolished
Turkey, ”said Tarik Beyhan, director of Amnesty International in Turkey.

Taner Kilic, former president of Amnesty Turkey, was sentenced in July to more than six years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group. He is free while waiting for a call.

More than 500,000 people in Turkey were prosecuted in connection with a failed coup in 2016, and thousands of journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians and others remain prison for terrorism. Hundreds of NGOs were shut down during the state of emergency following the attempted coup.

Yilmaz Tunc, a lawmaker from the ruling party leading the judiciary of Parliament
committee, reportedly said during the debate that changes to fundraising and association regulations should comply with international anti-terrorism rules and do not violate freedom of association.

NGO regulations were stuck to legislation the government deemed necessary to comply with a UN resolution on preventing funding for weapons of mass destruction. Mr Beyhan said that “additional provisions have been added secretly with the rear aim of further limiting the freedom of civil society to organize and assemble.”

He continued: “Human rights groups are frequently exposed to accusations of terrorism. [and] this law relies on ambiguous definitions of terrorism to make associations dysfunctional.

Erol Onderoglu of the rights group Reporters Without Borders, during a press conference in 2019, condemns the attacks on civil society groups in Turkey after the indictment of Osman Kavala © Ozan Kose / AFP / Getty

Osman Kavala, the most prominent figure in Turkish civil society, has been in prison since 2017 without conviction on charges he plotted against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The government ignored a decision by the European Court of Human Rights to release Mr Kavala.

Erdogan last week accused the Strasbourg-based court of “hypocrisy” after ordering his government to release Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of Turkey’s second largest opposition party, jailed for terrorism over his political speeches .

Turkey’s refusal to implement the decisions of the ECHR risks exacerbating tensions with the EU, which has threatened Ankara with sanctions for its aggressive foreign policy.

Mr Erdogan has promised in recent weeks an “action plan” to protect
rights, considered as part of an effort to repair relations with its
traditional Western partners and improve the investment climate as
the economy struggles during the coronavirus pandemic.

NGO oversight rules apply to a myriad of civil society groups, from human rights defenders and sports associations to religious groups.

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