Turkish Parliament Approves Law That Critics Say Will Stifle NGOs

Turkish Parliament Approves Law That Critics Say Will Stifle NGOs
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, on Nov. 30, 2020. (Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters)

ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey’s parliament has passed a law that would ramp up oversight of foundations and associations. and risks limiting the freedoms of civil society organizations, according to rights groups including Amnesty International.

The law allows the interior minister to replace members of organizations who are being investigated for terrorism charges, while the interior ministry can also apply to courts to halt the groups’ activities under the new law. International organizations will also be included under the law and penalized accordingly.

Parliament approved the bill—drafted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, which holds a parliamentary majority with its nationalist MHP allies—early on Dec. 27, the assembly said on Twitter.

Earlier this week, seven civil society organizations, including Human Rights Association and Amnesty, said in a statement that terrorism charges in Turkey were arbitrary, adding the law violates the presumption of innocence and punishes those whose trials aren’t finalized.

“Given that thousands of civil society activists, journalists, politicians, members of professional organizations are investigated within the scope of (anti-terrorism law), there is no doubt that this law will target almost all opponent associations,” the organizations say.

Investigations based on terrorism charges have been started against hundreds of thousands of people under a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016. Members of Amnesty and other civil society groups have been investigated and tried, while hundreds of foundations were also shuttered by decrees.

Critics say Erdogan’s government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent. The government says the measures are necessary given the security threats facing Turkey.

Under the law, foundations will be reviewed annually by civil servants. Local governors or the Interior Minister can block online donation campaigns under a measure to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering.

Fines of up to 200,000 lira ($26,500.60) can be levied, compared to a previous maximum of 700 lira ($92.62), in a move the seven organizations said will “in practice lead to the closure of many associations.”