Turkey’s state of emergency, in place since a coup attempt was defeated two years ago, is to end at midnight on Wednesday, less than a month after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan scored a major election victory that helped him to amass vast new powers.
The Turkish leader introduced the measure on July 20, 2016, days after a failed military coup that left 249 people dead. It typically last three months but parliament extended it seven times.
The lifting of the state of emergency fulfils an election campaign promise that Mr Erdogan made in the run-up to snap presidential and parliamentary polls last month. It has served as a tool to pursue members of the shadowy movement accused of masterminding the failed putsch as well as to crush dissidents.
But the government said it would not relent in its fight against terror groups, with Mr Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) submitting a draft parliamentary anti-terror bill on July 16 that would keep some of the state of emergency provisions in place for up to three years. Meanwhile, the authorities have pressed on with court cases against journalists and academics, as well as opposition leaders.
“The state of emergency will end, but the most persistent and most determined fight against all kinds of terrorism… will continue till the end,” said Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.
Mr Erdogan was sworn in last week as head of state under a new executive presidential system that has endowed his office with broad new powers, including the ability to appoint senior judges and civil servants, to issue decrees with the force of law, and to name the cabinet and unelected vice-presidents. His AKP party, in coalition with nationalists, retained the majority in the Grand National Assembly.
The state of emergency was approved shortly after the coup attempt. Since then, more than 120,000 people have been dismissed or jailed over their alleged links to the Fethullah Gulen Terror Organisation (FETO), named after a US-exiled cleric and former ally of Mr Erdogan accused of masterminding the coup attempt. They included police and military officers, university professors, journalists and bureaucrats.
Ending the state of emergency has long been a key demand of human rights campaigners and opposition parties, who argued that the purge had gone beyond the targeting of the coup’s perpetrators. Mr Erdogan vowed in June to not ask for an extension, after opposition presidential candidates campaigned to end it.
But the president’s allies in parliament also sought to enshrine some of its provisions in their latest bill. The police will be able to hold suspects accused of crimes related to national security for longer than ordinary suspects without an indictment, and governors will be able to restrict access to public spaces, a measure that could be used to stifle protests and demonstrations.
But the bid to retain the measures have angered Turkey’s opposition, who claim the bill will effectively serve to create a de facto state of emergency in the country.
"With this bill, with the measures in this text, the state of emergency will not be extended for three months, but for three years," said the head of the CHP's parliamentary faction, Ozgur Ozel.
"They make it look like they are lifting the emergency but in fact they are continuing it," he added.
Observers had hoped the end of the state of emergency would prove to be a boon to civil society and dissidents. But the government issued a decree dismissing over 18,600 state employees a day before Mr Erdogan was sworn in, over alleged links to terrorist groups.
On Wednesday, the state news agency said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the largest opposition party, known as the CHP, would be investigated for allegedly insulting Mr Erdogan, because he shared a cartoon on social media mocking the president.
The opposition figure has also been ordered to pay a $75,000 fine (Dh275,000) for publicly accusing members of the president’s inner circle of transferring money to offshore accounts in the Isle of Man.