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Turkey: new bill gives police 'draconian' new anti-protest powers

A protester in front of riot police near Taksim Square in Istanbul in 2013 © OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
‘Turkey’s parliament has taken some of the worst abuses from the country’s appalling track record on policing and effectively endorsed them in law’ - Andrew Gardner
A range of legal changes contained in a bill passed by Turkey’s parliament today will give the country’s police forces broad and dangerous new powers to detain people and use firearms to quell dissent, Amnesty International said. 
The legal changes - which amend 14 different laws or decrees - have been hotly debated, and the timing is seen as especially contentious given parliamentary elections are scheduled for June. The “Law amending the Law on powers and duties of the police, other laws and decrees” - widely referred to simply as the “domestic security package” - has been the subject of intense debate in the Turkish parliament since 17 February. 
Passing the bill now means it is likely to come into law before the planned closure of parliament on 5 April and opposition members have vowed that they will call on Turkey’s Constitutional Court to overturn the bill. 
Amnesty said the bill’s provisions on police force contradict international human rights standards, while also containing vaguely-worded provisions giving the police powers to detain individuals without a prosecutor’s order - detentions of up to 24 hours in individual crimes and up to 48 hours for those committed in the context of violent incidents at protests. Other provisions erode the independence of prosecutors and the obligation to ensure that they can carry out their work without undue interference. Meanwhile, regional governors are granted the power to issue direct orders to police in the investigation of crimes.
The Turkish government has sought to justify the bill on the basis of violent demonstrations that took place in south-eastern Turkey last October in which up to 50 people died, hundreds were injured and major damage was caused to property. However, Turkey already has a record of denying the right to peaceful protest, police use of excessive force - including with firearms - and politically-motivated prosecutions.
Amnesty International Turkey Researcher Andrew Gardner said:
“Today’s vote to pass this draconian new law confirms our fears - Turkey’s parliament has taken some of the worst abuses from the country’s appalling track record on policing and effectively endorsed them in law.
“Authorising the police to use firearms to protect property where there is no imminent threat to life flies in the face of international standards on policing and is likely to lead to further violations of the right to life.
“The timing of the bill, so close to key parliamentary elections, provides the authorities with new powers to suppress dissent. Signing this bill into law will give a green light to widespread abuses against those who exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” 

Turkey’s crackdown on protests

Turkey has a record of abuses of the rights of peaceful protesters, who will likely also be the targets of these vague and wide-ranging new security measures. 
Between 28 May and mid-July 2013, demonstrations known as the “Gezi Park protests” took place in all but two of Turkey’s 81 provinces, ranging between crowds of a few hundred to tens of thousands. Security forces across Turkey repeatedly used abusive and arbitrary force against peaceful protesters, sometimes with fatal consequences. At least four protesters died as a direct result of police use of excessive force, including 15-year-old Berkin Elvan and 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert, who were both hit in the head by tear gas canisters fired at close range. More than 8,000 people were injured, some very seriously, during the wave of protests. 
In 2014, police used excessive force against peaceful May Day demonstrators near Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. A standoff is expected again on May Day this year, with demonstrators demanding to march on Taksim Square and the authorities maintaining that central Istanbul is off-limits. 
Meanwhile, Amnesty has documented multiple occasions on which Turkish police and security forces have used tear gas and water cannon in excessive, unwarranted and arbitrary ways to disperse protesters, and fired at unarmed protesters using rubber bullets and plastic bullets, killing and seriously wounding some. Thousands more have been beaten by police and security forces. Protesters, human rights activists and journalists have been arrested and detained. 
The adoption of the bill is the latest in a series of measures to repress dissent in Turkey. In December, Amnesty expressed concern about the Turkish authorities’ purchase of large amounts of tear gas and other chemical riot control agents from a South Korean company. 

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