Turkish lawmakers pass bill monitoring civil society groups

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party’s lawmakers, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 23. 2020. Turkey’s president has lashed out against the European Court of Human Rights after its ruling that Turkey must immediately release a prominent Kurdish politician. Speaking to his ruling party lawmakers Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called imprisoned politician Selahattin Demirtas a “terrorist” and accused the European court of “defending a terrorist.” (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s parliament approved a law Sunday that would increase government monitoring of civil society groups, which rights groups have warned would violate the freedom of association.

Newly introduced articles on associations and foundations, included in the bill on “Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” allow the annual inspection of nongovernmental organizations, ostensibly to combat terrorism financing.

The law also lets the interior ministry replace members of associations if they are being investigated on terrorism charges and gives it the power to suspend activities with a court order. It also allows courts to block access to online donation campaigns without permits.

The bill, proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, passed with the votes of the party and its nationalist allies.

Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws are broad and have led to the jailing of politicians, journalists, civil society activists and thousands of others.

Nearly 680 civil society groups signed a declaration against the bill, saying it would limit their ability to raise funds and organize while putting them under ministry pressure. They said the law violates the Turkish Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of association.

“Turkish prosecutors regularly open terrorism investigations into people for peacefully exercising rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement before the vote.

The rights group warned the law would “widen the scope for the Interior Ministry to restrict the activities of any organization and individuals engaged in them.”

The law would also apply to international civil society groups operating in Turkey.

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