Turkey’s emergency ends as bill seeks to keep some of its powers

State of emergency imposed in 2016 is lifted as bill seeking to retain some of its powers is brought to parliament.

Erdogan - Turkey
Lifting the state of emergency was one of President Erdogan's main election promises [AFP]

A state of emergency imposed in Turkey after a coup attempt two years ago comes to an end on Thursday, as the government seeks to pass new legislation to keep in place some of the measure’s powers.

Emergency rule was imposed five days after the coup attempt on July 20, 2016, to enable authorities “to take swift and effective action against those responsible” for it.

The government then extended it seven times, facing criticism from the opposition and Turkey’s Western allies.

More than 250 people, excluding the plotters, were killed during the coup attempt, which Ankara blames on the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a religious leader living in self-imposed exile in the United States. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made ending the state of emergency a key promise during his campaign ahead of last month’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

After winning the June 24 poll, Erdogan became Turkey’s first executive president with significantly increased powers.

The government recently said it would not seek an extension of the state of emergency, under which tens of thousands of people were either sacked from public institutions or arrested.

‘Powers abused’

The US and many members of the European Union, as well as international rights groups, repeatedly condemned the detentions and purges in the country.


Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s senior Turkey researcher, said the state of emergency was used by the government to counter legitimate opposition in the country, rather than to target threats to national security.

“It was completely understandable that serious measures needed to be taken after the coup attempt to protect the state’s national security,” Gardner said, but added that the government abused the powers it acquired.

“Independent institutions have been hollowed out, in particular, the judiciary is lacking basic standards of impartiality,” he told Al Jazeera.

Gardner added that the government should stop what he called arbitrary detentions and dismissals, as well as release people who were arrested or sacked without convincing evidence against them.

For its part, the government says the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law and aimed at removing Gulen’s supporters from state bodies and other parts of the society.

Yilmaz Tunc, deputy chairman of the parliament’s Justice Commission, said the lifting of the state of emergency would not significantly change daily life in Turkey.

“The two-year state of emergency did not affect the lives of regular citizens – and they will remain unaffected. The process was about terror groups and people related to them,” said Tunc, who is also a member of parliament for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

“However, it might still psychologically create a positive environment, particularly in terms of the economy. Turkey will keep fighting against terror groups within the boundaries of law, without any negative effects on its average citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.

The arrests in the country also targeted the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, the party’s leaders at the time, in November 2016.

They are accused of terrorism by the government, as are other imprisoned HDP members, and of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been waging a war against the state for autonomy.

The government carried out a massive offensive, mainly between 2015 and 2017, to remove major PKK elements from the predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

The new bill

Erdogan’s AK Party on Monday submitted a new bill seeking to keep some measures allowed under the state of emergency for another three years.

The proposed legislation is expected to be taken to parliament next week, following discussions at the Justice Commission.

If passed, the law will extend the time detainees can be held in prison through a court order for up to 12 days – instead of a maximum two-day period before the coup bid.

It will also maintain the power of related authorities in state institutions to carry out dismissals of civil servants said to be linked to terrorism.

Governors will hold the right to prevent individuals from exiting or entering an area for up to 15 days for security reasons.

Outdoor protests and gatherings will only be held during the daytime, while indoor ones will have to end by midnight.

Erdogan’s AK Party does not have the absolute majority to pass the bill by itself, but its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, is expected to back the proposed legislation in parliament.

‘Necessary changes’

Tunc told Al Jazeera the proposed legal changes are necessary in order for the government to continue its fight against terror groups, including Gulen’s organisation.

“There are still remnants of FETO members (Gulen supporters) within institutions and probes are going on. We needed the changes in our legislation to be able to deal with this. And the changes in question are in line with our constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.

“Turkey functions in line with the rule of law, and people who are removed from state institutions have the rights to go to Turkish courts, including rights to individually apply to the Constitutional Court. They can also complain to the European Court of Human Rights.”


But Gardner said Turkey needs a fundamental change to address all the problems created under the state of emergency, adding that the government was acting in the opposite direction with the recent draft legislation.

“Turkish authorities intend to continue with some of the provisions of the state emergency in the ordinary law, including arbitrary dismissals, which indicates that the crackdown within the state institutions will continue,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The ban on protests is another aspect that has been abused by the government, even about rallies that obviously have nothing to do with terrorism, such as LGBT events. The new legislation shows this will likely continue as well.” 

Follow Umut Uras @Um_Uras

Source: Al Jazeera