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Explained: Turkey’s controversial law that will tighten monitoring of civil society

The Turkish parliament on Sunday passed a bill that would increase the monitoring of civil society groups. What is the law, and what are its implications?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: January 1, 2021 12:41:12 pm
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey. (Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters)

The Turkish parliament on Sunday passed a bill that would increase the monitoring of civil society groups. The act is called “Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” and was proposed by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party in order to comply with UN Security Council’s recommendations to keep terror financing and money laundering in check.

Critics are seeing certain provisions of the bill as arbitrary and believe that it violates the provisions under the Turkish constitution since it interferes with the right to freedom of association.

What does the Bill say?

The Bill has come following the 2019 report on Turkey prepared by the intergovernmental body Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meant to fight money laundering and terror financing. The bill consists of 43 articles and has made changes to seven laws on Turkey’s Law of Associations and is meant to keep Turkey from being blacklisted by the Paris-based watchdog of terror financing.

The FATF is an inter-governmental body that is now in its 30th year, working to “set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system”.

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What are the implications of the Bill being passed?

The Bill gives the Turkish government the power to appoint trustees to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to suspend their activities, seize their assets and monitor their sources of funding.

As per various media reports, critics and human rights activists are seeing this move as a way to crack down on dissidents in a country where civil society is already not very free.

After a failed coup in 2016 that was aimed at protecting democracy in the country, thousands of journalists, bureaucrats, academics and judges have been targeted by the government.

Earlier this year, Turkish prosecutors ordered the arrest of nearly 700 including military and justice ministry personnel, as part of its moves against those accused of being involved in a 2016 coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan’s government. Erdogan, who is considered to be an Islamist and conservative, has been in power for over a decade now and has brought in a series of reforms in Turkish society.

Since the coup took place, the Turkish authorities have been carrying out a crackdown on the alleged followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Erdogan has long accused of plotting the 2016 coup. Gülen has denied these allegations and had condemned the coup. In fact, he has previously suggested that the coup was “staged” by the government itself.

A report in Al-Monitor said that the bill will deal a further blow to “civil society, whose determined efforts to steer Turkey toward a more democratic path have radiated hope even as Erdogan moves the country in the opposite direction.”

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