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Turkey debates NGO law which could 'limit freedoms of civil society organisations'

Erdogan's AK party drafted the bill [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 25 December, 2020

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Turkey is debating a new law that critics say could limit the freedom of NGOs and other civil society organisations.

Turkey is debating a law that critics say could limit the freedoms of non-governmental organisations and civil society groups.

The bill, if passed, would allow the interior minister to replace members of organisations who are being investigated for terrorism charges, and apply to courts to stop civil society groups’ activities.

The law is intended to prevent organisations from financing terrorism, the Turkish government says.

However, rights groups have said that the law will allow the government to close down any NGO for political reasons.

"The Turkish government’s new law on curbing financing of terrorism, with the new powers it grants the Interior Ministry, conceals within it another purpose: that is to curtail and restrict the legitimate activities of any nongovernmental group it doesn’t like," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"This law will become a dangerous tool to limit freedom of association, and the provisions relating to nongovernmental organisations should be withdrawn immediately."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party drafted the bill, and it is likely that it will be passed, given that the AKP and its allies have a majority in parliament.

Civil servants will be given the power to inspect NGOs, and local governors could block online donations campaigns on the grounds of preventing money laundering or the financing of terrorism.

Groups found guilty of illegal online donation campaigns could be fined 20,000 Turkish lira ($2,600) under the new law, compared to a maximum of 700 lira currently.

NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have argued that terrorism charges in Turkey are arbitrary, and the draft law would in practcse punish those who have not been found guilty of a crime in court.

"Terrorism charges continued to be widely misused in the third year after [a 2016] coup attempt," HRW wrote in a recent report about Turkey.

"As of July 2019, Ministry of Justice figures stated that 69,259 people were on trial and 155,560 people still under criminal investigation on terrorism charges in cases linked to the Gülen movement, which Turkey’s government terms the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) and deems a terrorist organization.

"Of those, 29,487 were held in prison either on remand or following conviction."

It added: "Prosecutions and convictions of lawyers, including some focused on human rights, stood out as exemplifying the abusive use of terrorism charges."

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