Farewell to Democracy: Turkey the Mukharabat State

Farewell to Democracy: Turkey the Mukhabarat State

Times are hard for Turkey. Not for the government but mostly for the people living within. In the last couple of months, we have witnessed a perpetually deepening corruption scandal involving serious allegations about four ministers, their sons and the Prime Minister’s son (that would have brought down any Western government single-handedly), a ferocious power struggle between the AKP and the Gulen movement, the death of an innocent 14 year-old boy shot by a police tear-gas cartridge; a Prime Minister making crowds boo for the boy killed and calling him a “terrorist” (let alone showing any sign of regret for declaring the police as heroes), a former Minister of EU Affairs naming thousands of people attending the teen’s funeral as “necrophiliacs”, EU officials declaring their worries over the lack of rule of law in Turkey and, last but not least, a fragile economy that is expected to experience a serious crisis soon, according  to leading economists at Forbes and the Financial Times. These are the first things that come to overstressed minds of people in Turkey.

Citizens from the east to the west of Turkey have been eagerly awaiting an apology, protesting against the government in peace, shedding tears for lost ones and demanding justice for quite a long time now. Furthermore, public trust in institutions like the judiciary and the media, not to mention individual freedoms are on a continual decline, leading to different types of mass protests almost every single month. One would imagine any one these would have served as a wake-up call for Prime Minister Erdogan. On the contrary, it has led to Erdogan’s more offensive remarks, grandiose actions in governmental control and now to the creation of a “mukharabat (intelligence) state.”

Recipe for Chaos

In the wake of the corruption scandal in December 2013, the government’s first reaction was to remove from office high-level police chiefs and prosecutors who carried out the investigation of the corruption probe. Calling the corruption investigation “an attempt to bring down the government” by a “parallel structure” which has infiltrated the judiciary and the police;, Erdogan signaled that his government would do whatever it takes to eradicate it. Even though there has been no solid proof indicating the existence of such a structure aiming to overthrow the government, in order to establish the necessary legal grounds to wage war against this “parallel structure”, the government drafted a number of laws which aimed to bring structural changes to the appointment of judges and prosecutors, allow stricter government control over the internet, and last but not least, give sweeping powers to the National Intelligence Agency (MIT).

When the proposed draft-law on the purview of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) was discussed at the Turkish parliament at the end of February 2014, it immediately received strong criticism from the opposition, businessmen, journalists and human rights groups. The reactions are not baseless. If passed by the Parliament and signed by the President, the new bill will grant MIT operational capabilities; increase its surveillance capacity and ability to wiretap citizens with virtually no judicial and external oversight.

Not surprisingly, even the current intelligence law is problematic in the sense that it lacks sufficient judicial oversight. One such memorable case is the MIT scandal in 2012 when it was revealed that the Taraf daily journalists were being wiretapped illegally by MIT, using foreign codenames for the reporters to prevent judges from knowing who was being wiretapped.

Subsequently, before that crisis was settled, a new scandal erupted in February 2012 when the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office summoned several high-level MIT officers to testify as part of an investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK); and Hakan Fidan, Chief of MIT, refused to testify and received an arrest warrant. In order to cover up the allegations, Erdogan blocked the inquiry into Fidan, dismissing the Chief Prosecutor straightaway, including many other senior officials at the Istanbul Security Directorate. Moreover, on the same day of the allegations, the Parliament (due to the AKP majority) passed an amendment for the intelligence law, not only protecting Fidan from any past and future investigations, but also, creating a quasi-Orwellian environment where now it is virtually impossible to investigate any MIT personnel without the Prime Minister’s consent.

Finally, in January 2014, the ‘patience’ of the government wore out once the Hatay Gendarmerie Command was instructed by the public prosecutor to intercept a suspicious truck heading to Syria and ended up discovering ammunition and weapons along with some humanitarian aid. Upon informing both the chief prosecutor and the governor, the prosecutor arrived on the scene only to be told that the gendarmerie could not search the vehicle further since they received an order from the governor instructing them to release the truck. So, once again, the government interfered with the judiciary and confronted the rule of law; whereas under normal circumstances, in the frame of a criminal investigation, the gendarmerie should have taken orders not from the governor (a government-appointed official), but from the public prosecutor.

The Worst is Yet to Come

As Erdogan is trying to hold onto power, the walls are closing in on democracy. After the truck scandal, the government proposed the new draft-law that effectively prevents MIT from any form of oversight. In a nutshell, the law gives MIT the power to conduct operations abroad, tap pay phones and international calls, proposes jail-time for up to 12 years for the publication of leaked classified documents, forces state institutions and private companies to hand over consumer data and technical equipment if requested, prohibits anonymous complaints against MIT (hence, disregarding witness protection completely) and provides MIT with legal immunity from almost any kind of charge.

Putting the agency above the law and entitling himself as the sole authority on intelligence affairs, Erdogan is playing a dangerous game with the judiciary. After substantial criticisms, the government withdrew the draft law last month, but it is planning to pass the bill after local elections on March 30, 2014. If the law is put into force, there won’t be any judicial and external oversight on MIT’s operations anymore. Transforming a police-state-to-be into an intelligence state and becoming the only one who can authorize any kind of investigation, Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies have gone out of hand.

Let’s all hope that once the election fever is over this draft will be revised and appropriate mechanisms for oversight will be introduced. Otherwise, without independent institutions, media oversight and judicial supervision, the principle of a separation of powers (the cornerstone of any democratic regime) will all but become a joke in Turkey. To be frank, we are all aware that the AKP has already fallen from grace as a result of the endless corruption scandals. However, this new draft-law is likely to inflict a wound upon the Turkish democracy and demolish the system from the inside. For once, we might not recover from it.

Berfu Kızıltan, PhD Candidate in Political Science, The Graduate Institute, Geneva
and Nazlı Yıldırım, Project Officer, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces*

*Disclaimer: “The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not represent the views of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.”

Please cite this publication as follows:

Kızıltan B. & Yıldırım N.  (March, 2014), “Farewell to Democracy: Turkey the Mukharabat State”, Vol. III, Issue 3, pp.25-27, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=5556)


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