AK Party deputies pass MIT law article-by-article despite warnings

ANKARA (CIHAN)- Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies have ignored dire warnings from opposition parties, rights groups and civil society organizations regarding a law that will give sweeping powers to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), potentially turning Turkey into a country governed by the intelligence agency.

Parliament on Wednesday began debating the MIT draft law — starting from the fifth article since the first four were adopted on Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, President Abdullah Gul told reporters: “I am closely following this [draft] law as I did for previous laws. Such laws are contentious in nature. I have shared my views [on the draft] with the [government] authorities.” He added that the final say on the content of the bill belongs to Parliament.

Parliament’s General Assembly began debating the MIT bill last week, and the AK Party wants the bill to be passed by the legislature this week. The opposition parties are, however, cold to the bill. The parties have already declared that they would not join an alliance with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan’s AK Party to adopt the bill in Parliament. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it would take the law to the Constitutional Court for annulment if it is passed.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Ankara deputy Özcan Yeniçeri, who held a press conference on Tuesday on Parliament grounds, said a majority of the provisions in the draft law are against the Constitution.

Altan Tan, the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) DiyarbakIr deputy, said the government is trying to create an uncontrolled and unchecked monster that can carry out any action it wants without any authorization. He also said that an article in the draft legalizing talks with terrorist organizations is not what the BDP is looking for in terms of ongoing negotiations with the head of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “This is not the legal framework we want,” Tan said.

During talks on the MIT draft, there was a brief quarrel between Deputy Prime Minister BeIir Atalay and CHP Gaziantep deputy Ali SerindaI, who criticized Article No. 5 of the bill, which allows the government to authorize MIT to stage operations through a Cabinet decree.

The Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP) also made a statement, saying the MIT law is an attempt to turn the intelligence agency into the private intelligence organization of the prime minister. It said the draft is an assault on the freedoms of press and expression and it is an attempt to reverse Turkey’s aances in democracy. It said MIT will be able to inquire about sources of journalists, who risk being jailed when the draft is passed. It said the law effectively ends people’s right to news, and added that forcing journalists to identify who their sources are is a violation of the freedom of speech as established by previous rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). GÖP has a rotating presidency, which is currently held by the Press Council.

Parliament approved the first four articles of the draft law on Tuesday night, and an amendment was made to the first article. The original article in the draft read, “MIT fulfills all duties vested in it by the Cabinet in such matters as foreign security, the fight against terrorism and national security.” After a change the AK Party made to the draft bill, the article now reads without the word “all.”

Article 6 of the law, which allows MIT employees and retired personnel to carry firearms at any location without a carrying permit, was passed on Wednesday.

The draft law contains 15 articles.

Another article of the law adopted in Parliament gives MIT the right to hold talks with all groups, including terrorist organizations that pose a threat to national security. The article provides retroactive legal grounds for the Oslo talks, a series of meetings that were held secretly between some senior PKK operatives and MIT officials in Oslo in 2010 in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the country’s Kurdish problem.

If approved, the MIT draft will authorize the intelligence agency to conduct operations against possible threats overseas. In addition, the organization will be authorized to wiretap phone conversations overseas upon order of the undersecretary or his aide. MIT will also have unfettered access to the archives and databases of every ministry and will be able to collect any data on citizens. What is more, the law requires private companies to hand over consumer data and technical equipment to MIT when requested.

The draft law also introduces severe penalties for obtaining and publishing MIT documents. If a person obtains, leaks or forges a confidential MIT document, he can face a prison sentence of between four and 10 years. If a person obtains and publishes a document related to MIT members, he faces between three and seven years imprisonment. If this publication makes its way into the print or visual media, the sentence will then be increased to up to 12 years.(CihanToday’s Zaman)