Human Rights

AKP’s Draft Bill on the Prevention of the Proliferation of WMD: “The final nail in the coffin of civil society”

Esra Koçak Mayda

Ankara – On Wednesday December 16, the draft bill titled “Law on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” signed by 45 parliamentarians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was submitted to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. 

HDP Deputy Co-Chair for Economy Garo Paylan and CHP Eskişehir Deputy Utku Çakırözer evaluated the proposal which aims to implement the United Nations Security Council counterterrorism resolution to ban the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They draw attention to the fact that the proposal prepares the ground for new rights violations and limits the activities of civil society. 

Authority of Interior Minister Soylu will expand 

The draft law stipulates a strengthening of the authority of Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu over associations. Soylu will be able to impose sanctions and shut down associations when terror investigations have been launched against their executives. Within the framework of the new law, individuals against whom an investigation for terrorism, drug-related crimes or money laundering has been launched, may be suspended from the associations in which they work upon order by the Ministry of Interior. 

If this is not considered sufficient, the Minister of Interior will be able to apply to the court to temporarily restrain all operations of the association. If this proposal becomes law, the activities of many civil society organizations and associations working in the field of human rights will be limited, albeit temporarily, and if deemed necessary, trustees will be appointed for the management. To justify these measures, an investigation into a press release by the managers of the association or a press conference that they attended may be enough. 

Paylan: “The government will silence civil society with this law”

We asked the opposition what the AKP hoped to achieve with this draft law and what it will entail if enacted. HDP Deputy Co-Chair for Economy Garo Paylan argues that this proposal prepares the ground for rights violations: 

“When the government proposed this draft law, it hid behind the excuse that ‘such laws exist all over the world.’ But in democratic countries the definition of ‘terror’ is not the same as in Turkey. In Turkey, all kinds of ideas may be placed inside the parentheses of ‘terror,’ and can encompass all kinds of civil society activities. If this proposal becomes law, it will be the final nail in the coffin of civil society activities. There has already been great pressure on civil society for years. Many of our friends such as Osman Kavala are either in prison or in exile. Civil society activities are declining. If this proposal enters into legal force, civil society will not be able to implement activities. You know that NGOs carry out their activities with national and international funds. With this proposal, the Ministry of Interior can close all civil society organizations, suspend [their employees] and seize their funds by putting the ‘terror’ label on them. This makes it impossible to carry out civil society activities.”

Paylan emphasizes that civil society is a mechanism that ensures the life security of citizens just like the parliament, the press and the judiciary, and says:

“If human rights organizations had not been active in this field, much more people would have fallen victim to unsolved murders in these lands. If civil society cannot operate, our society and the world cannot see the rights violations by the government and our country will head into a great darkness. Against this background, I understand the Ministry of Interior to express the following with its demand for this authority: ‘I will increase human rights violations, I will carry out all kinds of illegal activities to bring the opposition to their knees, I do not want them to be recognized, so I will silence the civil society with this law.’ What they did so far in that regard is an assurance of what they will do [in the future].”

Çakırözer: “The target is the civil society, not the weapons of mass destruction”

CHP Eskişehir deputy and former journalist Utku Çakırözer criticizes this proposed bill: 

“Although no final decision has been made on the proposal, the authority to dismiss the directors of associations and to appoint trustees in their place will have grave consequences. In the current form, the proposal provides the government with the authority to arbitrarily close associations and NGOs that it does not like or dismiss their directors. Such a regulation is equal to totally ignoring the will of the members of that civil society organization. It is against the principles of universal law. It is also diametrically opposed to ‘democracy’, for which pluralism is an indispensable requirement.”

Çakırözer explains that the AKP’s reform discourse is not compatible with this law proposal: “On the one hand, you say that you reform the law. You say that our place is Europe. On the other hand, with this proposal that you have sent to the Assembly you pave the way for the appointment of trustees to associations and other NGOs. The law, the constitution and judicial decisions are ignored. You cannot reform the country by bringing these state of emergency practices, that will completely silence the civil society, to the parliament. Appointing trustees to associations with the excuse of terrorism can be named anything, but it can never be called reform.” 

“A threat to press freedom”

Çakırözer considers the seizure of the funds that associations received from abroad in the framework of this law as an interference into civil society. Çakırözer, who considers this situation as a direct blow to the freedom of the press, says: “This case directly concerns the freedom of the press in Turkey. Because in Turkey, there are many professional journalism associations and media outlets that are benefiting from EU and other similar international funds. These associations monitor the freedom of press in Turkey closely and, with their reports, draw attention to this problematic field nationally and internationally. Now, with this article, the Ministry of Interior will control the financing of the associations and arbitrarily confiscate their assets.” 

International organizations also fall into the reach of the law 

The law proposal stipulates radical changes for the audit of associations and foundations whose headquarters are located abroad. All associations and foundations will be obliged to inform the Ministry of Interior about their payments made abroad and their funds received from abroad. An administrative fine will be imposed on all kinds of income, cash proceeds, expenses and payments processed through banks exceeding 7000 Turkish Lira. 

The proposal also foresees major changes in the Law on Associations. Compared to the current law, parallel to expanding the conditions for notifications on assistance from abroad, it also expands the stipulations for the assistance relations. Associations will now make notifications before receiving assistance from abroad.

The submission of the draft law to the Assembly also foresees the amendment of the Law on Aid Collection, which regulates the procedures and principles regarding the supervision of persons and organizations authorized to collect funds. Authorities charged with the supervision will be able to request information and documents, including information on bank accounts, from public institutions and organizations. The draft law also foresees an increase in the fines applied to those who collect funds without permission. While the current law stipulates fines of a maximum of 700 TL, the new proposal plans fines between 5000 and 100 000 Turkish Lira; those who collect unauthorized funds online will be fined between 10 000 and 200 000 Turkish Lira.