Turkish Parliament passes law restricting rights groups and foundations

Civil society groups will face intense scrutiny under 'anti-terrorism' legislation

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party's lawmakers, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 23. 2020. Turkey’s president has lashed out against the European Court of Human Rights after its ruling that Turkey must immediately release a prominent Kurdish politician. Speaking to his ruling party lawmakers Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called imprisoned politician Selahattin Demirtas a “terrorist” and accused the European court of “defending a terrorist.” (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)
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Turkey's Parliament passed a law that increased monitoring of foundations and associations and, human rights groups say, could limit the freedom of society.

The law allows the interior minister to replace members of organisations who are under investigation for terrorism charges, while the Interior Ministry can apply to courts to halt the groups' activities.

International organisations will also be included under the law and can be penalised accordingly.

Parliament approved the bill – drafted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party, which holds a majority with its nationalist MHP allies – on Sunday, the assembly said on Twitter.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament?in Ankara, Turkey, December 23, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
President Erdogan greets members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey on December 23, 2020. Reuters

This week seven organisations, including Human Rights Association and Amnesty International, said terrorism charges in Turkey were arbitrary, and that the law goes against the presumption of innocence and punishes those whose trials are not finalised.

"Given that thousands of civil society activists, journalists, politicians, members of professional organisations are investigated within the scope of [anti-terrorism law], there is no doubt that this law will target almost all opponent associations," they said.

Investigations based on terrorism charges have been launched against hundreds of thousands of people after a failed coup in 2016.

Members of Amnesty and other groups have been investigated and tried, while hundreds of foundations were shut down with decrees.

Critics said Mr Erdogan's government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government said the measures were necessary given the security threats facing Turkey.

Under the law, foundations will be inspected annually by civil servants.

Local governors or the interior minister can block online donation campaigns using a measure to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering.

Fines of up to 200,000 lira ($26,500) can be levied, compared to a previous maximum of 700 lira, in a move the seven organisations said will "in practice lead to the closure of many associations".