ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament passed a law on Sunday that would ramp up oversight of foundations and associations and, according to rights groups including Amnesty International, risks limiting the freedoms of civil society organisations.
The law allows the interior minister to replace members of organisations who are being investigated for terrorism charges, while the interior ministry can also apply to courts to halt the groups’ activities under the new law. International organisations will also be included under the law and penalised accordingly.
Parliament approved the bill – drafted by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, which holds a parliamentary majority with its nationalist MHP allies – early on Sunday, the assembly said on Twitter.
Earlier this week, seven civil society organisations, including Human Rights Association and Amnesty, said in a statement that terrorism charges in Turkey were arbitrary, adding the law violates 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,” said the organisations.
Investigations based on terrorism charges have been launched against hundreds of thousands of people under a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016. Members of Amnesty and other civil society groups have been investigated and tried, while hundreds of foundations were also shut down with decrees.
Critics say Erdogan’s government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent. The government says the measures are 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 under a measure to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering.
Fines of up to 200,000 lira ($26,500.60) 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”.
($1 = 7.5470 liras)
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)