Court orders stay of controversial police regulation banning recordings at protests

Police officers arrest AFP photographer Bülent Kılıç while covering a Pride march in Istanbul that had been banned by authorities on June 26, 2021. Hacı Bişkin / Gazete Duvar / AFP

The Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, has ruled for a stay of execution of a controversial regulation issued by the country’s Security General Directorate in April ordering police officers to stop people from recording videos while law enforcement is carrying out its duties, Turkish Minute reported.

The court, in its decision dated Sept. 15,  ruled that the regulation violated freedom of the press and the freedom to communicate, adding that fundamental rights and freedoms can only be restricted through laws and hence the regulation does not comply with the country’s constitution.

The court has not yet ruled to cancel the regulation, but it will not be implemented from now on based on the court’s decision, which was made public on Thursday.

The regulation, dated April 27 and signed by national police chief Mehmet Aktaş, argued that the filming of police officers amounts to a violation of their right to privacy and prevents them from carrying out their duties. It then instructs officers to prevent people from using their cellphones to record police during demonstrations and calls on them to “take legal action” if needed. The move led to widespread criticism among journalists, opposition parties and rights activists, with many fearing that it could lead to increased human rights violations in a country that already has a poor record in rights violations.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had said the move could lead to increased police brutality and amounted to “authoritarianism at its finest.”

In early May, the Ankara Bar Association filed a petition at the Council of State against the regulation, demanding its cancellation.

“Every citizen may feel the need to record as evidence an incident that takes place in public out of suspicion that it includes the elements of a crime,” the association said in its petition, adding that the regulation runs contrary to Turkey’s constitution and laws and has nothing to do protecting the privacy of the police as claimed by Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.

According to Human Rights Watch, there has been a marked resurgence of police torture and ill-treatment in Turkey over the past five years and since a coup attempt in 2016 in particular. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them has resulted in widespread impunity for the security forces. The rights watchdog’s Europe and Central Asia director, Hugh Williamson, said, “Turkey has an entrenched culture of impunity when it comes to abuses by the security forces, no matter how serious.”

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