Turkey police bill raises fears of new clampdown on dissent
Chairs flew and lawmakers traded punches. A brawl in Parliament over a new security bill has forced the spotlight on mounting suspicions that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's real goal is to hand himself more tools to crush dissent.
Five lawmakers were injured early yesterday in the fight that broke out as opposition leaders tried to delay a debate on the legislation.
The government says the measures to give police heightened powers to break up demonstrations are aimed at preventing violence such as the deadly clashes that broke out last year between Kurds, supporters of an Islamist group, and police. Critics say that the new measures are part of a steady march towards preventing mass demonstrations that threaten Erdogan's iron grip over Turkish politics.
The bill would expand police rights to use firearms, allow them to search people or vehicles without a court order, and detain people for up to 48 hours without prosecutor authorisation. Police would also be permitted to use firearms against demonstrators who hurl Molotov cocktails. Demonstrators who cover their faces with masks or scarves during violent demonstrations could face four years in prison.
Crucially, the measures would give governors, not just prosecutors and judges, the right to order arrests.
In defending the bill, Erdogan said it was "aimed at protecting social order and social peace". Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed accusations that the measures will violate civil liberties, saying the goal is to protect society: "No one will be able to demonstrate with Molotov cocktails," he said over the weekend.
Metin Feyzioglu, the head of the Turkish Bar Association, said that giving local governors even limited powers to order arrests without getting court orders is tantamount to martial law. "This is an extremely dangerous development," he said.