A total of 520 nongovernmental organizations in Turkey said in a joint statement that a bill recently proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that authorizes the interior minister to shut down associations violates the right to freedom of association.
Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD), the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), Amnesty International’s Turkish office and the Rights Initiative Association are among the NGOs that signed the joint statement.
The bill, titled “Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” grants the interior ministry the authority to shut down associations and allows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to freeze assets, both without court orders.
According to the bill, the ministry would also have the authority to suspend an association member from their position if they are under criminal investigation for an act that is punishable under Turkey’s counterterrorism laws, which are described by many as vague and widely misused. The ministry could also suspend the organization’s entire board or its activities until a final court ruling is issued.
Including 43 articles and amending six domestic laws, the bill was rushed to parliament by the ruling AKP on Dec. 18 without consultation with the civil society organizations it will affect the most.
The package, which was swiftly passed through the parliamentary subcommittee and will be voted in the general assembly on Thursday, was criticized by Turkey’s opposition parties for containing clauses concerning civil society organizations that have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction.
The joint statement included a call on the Turkish government to withdraw provisions in the draft law that would arbitrarily curtail NGOs’ activities, and thus, violate the right to freedom of association.
If the bill becomes law, scores of associations, including human, women’s, refugees’ and LGBTI rights foundations, will face the risk of arbitrary closure by way of a single signature by the minister, the NGOs warned.
Since it would take years for the courts to render judgments on appeals filed by the organizations against their closure, this law will serve as a procedure for a “swift closure” for them, the statement also emphasized.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said Turkey’s AKP government should withdraw provisions in the bill that “greatly exceed the aim of preventing the financing of terrorism and weapons proliferation, and instead, enable the Interior Ministry to target NGOs’ legitimate and lawful activities and the right to association of their members.”
“This law will become a dangerous tool to limit freedom of association, and the provisions relating to nongovernmental organizations should be withdrawn immediately,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
In the aftermath of an attempted coup in July 2016, Erdoğan ruled the country under a state of emergency that was in force for two years, until 2018, during which his AKP government summarily shut down a total of 1,748 associations and foundations by decree-laws. After nearly four years, the courts have still not rendered judgments on appeals filed by these organizations against their closure.