The bells toll for Turkish civil society

Brussels Morning Newspaper
3 min readApr 27, 2021

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The bells toll for Turkish civil society

Turkey’s new laws could spell disaster for the country’s civil society, writes İsrafil Özkan.

Istanbul (Brussels Morning) The proposal on the Prevention of Financing and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction was recently discussed at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and passed by the ruling coalition’s votes. The proposal was prepared as an omnibus bill, containing many amendments to a variety of laws.

While the parliament was arguing the budget for 2021, the proposal, which concerns civil society, was quickly presented and adopted in the last days of 2020. The basis of the proposal is to implement regulations, as advised by the Financial Action Task Force within the OECD to all countries, to prevent money laundering, the spread of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and their financing. Should Turkey not realise the FATF recommendations, it could be placed on the ‘dark grey list’ of this institution, which would harden the current climate of insecurity in Turkey’s economy.

However, the regulations proposed by the ruling party (Justice and Development Party — AKP) and its ruling partner (Nationalist Movement Party — MHP) attracted much backlash from civil society in Turkey. Seven hundred associations and foundations operating in Turkey issued a statement entitled ‘Civil Society Cannot Be Silenced’, protesting the arrangement, with demonstrations held in various cities.

Under this law, some administrative measures could now be applied to non-governmental organisations without legal penalty. In the new regulation, there are measures such as providing the governors — in practice the Ministry of Internal Affairs — with the authority of appointing trustees to NGOs, increasing the controls applied to NGOs, dismissing NGO managers only by opening an investigation and banning them from being a manager of another NGO again. The confiscation of NGOs’ property is being reduced to a simple administrative process.

All NGOs must have to obtain prior authorisation for any fundraising activity.

Reform realities

Furthermore, a long authorisation process based on non-objective criteria will be applied for the authorisation. All of these can make the restrictive practices of the state to be felt increasingly stronger in the civil society of Turkey. Although ‘reform’ is frequently brandished by the ruling wing of Turkey, the hope for such reforms that imagine a revitalisation of democratic institutions is diminishing due to such laws.

Under these arrangements, designed to prevent further economic difficulties, there is a noticeable deficiency. The most important of the FATF proposals are those made for ‘Politically Exposed Persons’. At this point, the FATF anticipates establishing mechanisms to monitor better the assets of these people and take measures to prevent them from using their political power to create wealth.

However, there were no measures regarding these issues in the law imposed by the ruling wing of parliament. In the following days, we will see how much will be approved by the FATF and OECD, despite the above-mentioned shortcomings. It seems that the government is not willing to open politicians’ wealth resources to audit, despite the risk of entering the dark grey list.

One of the questionable aspects of the law is its rather broad definition of ‘terrorism’. According to the latest legal regulation, making propaganda for a terrorist organisation is deemed sufficient by the administration to lock the door of an NGO. However, even making sharp comments against the government in Turkey can be considered a terrorist act. “Changing the economic order” is also considered a terrorism crime according to the Anti-Terror Law №3713 in Turkey.

Human Rights Watch notes that the Financial Action Task Force’s Recommendation №6 urges governments to respect human rights, respect the rule of law, and recognise the rights of innocent third parties while working to prevent the financing of terrorism and money laundering. Turkey’s new law will completely flout such standards and instead widen the scope for the Interior Ministry to restrict the activities of any organisation and individuals engaged in them.

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