Turkey exploits global fight against terrorism financing to target civil society: Amnesty

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Turkey exploits measures prescribed by international watchdogs to combat money laundering, terrorism financing and countering the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in a bid to target civil society organizations, Amnesty International said in a briefing published on Friday.

The publication comes ahead of an annual review meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the intergovernmental body that sets international standards to prevent global money laundering and terrorist financing, scheduled for June 21–25.

Weaponizing counter-terrorism: Turkey’s exploitation of terrorism financing assessment to target civil society reveals how a law adopted under the guise of combatting terrorism financing threatens to undermine the legitimate work of civil society organizations, according to Amnesty. 

The legislation in question is Law No. 7262 on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

According to Amnesty, the law introduces new measures that violate the rights to freedom of association and expression and internationally recognized fair trial guarantees.

“This outlandish law bulldozed through at breakneck speed on the pretext of combating terrorism is a thinly disguised attempt to ratchet up the pressure on a sector already reeling from more than five years of a relentless crackdown,” said Amnesty International’s Europe director, Nils Muižnieks.

“The new law joins Turkey’s arsenal of counter-terrorism laws, many of which are routinely used to target human rights defenders and civil society organisations, including Amnesty International. It threatens to escalate the pressure on civil society activists who already face prosecution and conviction on trumped-up terrorism charges.”

FATF will review Turkey’s compliance with the task force’s 2019 assessment report, which found Turkey only in “partial compliance” with FATF’s recommendation on terrorism financing and potential risks associated with the not-for profit sector.

FATF recommended that Turkey “implement a focused risk-based approach and proportionate risk-mitigation measures to Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) identified as at risk of terrorism financing abuse.”

In response Turkish authorities rushed the new law through parliament, which came into force on December 31, 2020.

“The law goes far beyond what is required by the FATF, and its overly broad and vague provisions undermine the principle of legality in a way that threatens to further erode the exercise of the rights to freedom of association and expression, and a range of other human rights,” Amnesty said.

Before parliament voted the bill into legislation, 520 nongovernmental organizations in Turkey said in a joint statement that the bill’s provisions violate the right to freedom of association.

According to Amnesty the ambiguities in the new law leave it open to misuse against civil society organizations, including those dedicated to the defense and promotion of human rights. 

FATF has set out a risk assessment for states to apply to the non-profit sector to identify risks associated with terrorism financing and to implement mitigation measures where required. 

“The new law in Turkey, however, subjects all NPOs to the same disproportionate risk mitigation measures, including organizations at no risk of vulnerability to involvement in terrorism financing. It ­­imposes burdensome audits on all NPOs and includes provisions that would hinder all online fundraising activities without justification based on actual risk,” Amnesty said.

The law includes provisions that enable the suspension of board members and employees as well as the dissolution of organizations, without adequate and effective judicial safeguards. 

Although the law describes the suspension measures as “temporary,” terrorism prosecutions in Turkey often last for many years. 

In the aftermath of an attempted coup in July 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip 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.

The chilling effect of the fear of being labeled a “terrorist” or of their legitimate work being characterized as a “security threat” shrinks the space for free expression and association, according to Amnesty. 

“Using FATF requirements as a fig leaf to target critics and silence dissent sets a dangerous precedent that will be keenly eyed by many other governments around the world seeking to silence their own critics,” said Muižnieks.

In February 2021 FATF launched a new project to study and mitigate the unintended consequences resulting from states’ incorrect implementation of FATF recommendations and standards. Focus areas include the suppression of non-profit organizations through the failure of states to implement FATF’s risk-based approach and threats to human rights stemming from the misuse of its standards.

“The FATF meeting next week must do more than acknowledge these unintended consequences, and take concrete action to reverse them. Failure to do so would be an abdication of responsibility that could spell disaster for civil society in Turkey and beyond,” Amnesty said.

According to the Global NPO Coalition on FATF — which monitors countries that have imposed undue restrictions on freedom of association on the basis of terrorism financing concerns — Albania, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Venezuela have also used FATF standards to target civil society. 

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