Turkish parliament passes bill increasing government monitoring of civil society groups

Turkey’s parliament approved a law Sunday that would increase government monitoring of civil society groups, which rights groups have warned would violate the freedom of association, the Associated Press reported.

Newly introduced articles on associations and foundations, included in the bill on “Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” allow the annual inspection of nongovernmental organizations, ostensibly to combat terrorism financing.

The law also lets the interior ministry replace members of associations if they are being investigated on terrorism charges and gives it the power to suspend activities with a court order. It also allows courts to block access to online donation campaigns without permits.

The bill, proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, passed with the votes of the party and its nationalist allies.

Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws are broad and have led to the jailing of politicians, journalists, civil society activists and thousands of others.

Nearly 680 civil society groups signed a declaration against the bill, saying it would limit their ability to raise funds and organize while putting them under ministry pressure. They said the law violates the Turkish Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of association.

In a statement before the vote, Human Rights Watch said, “Turkish prosecutors regularly open terrorism investigations into people for peacefully exercising rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.”

“The Turkish government’s new law on curbing financing of terrorism, with the new powers it grants the Interior Ministry, conceals within it another purpose: that is to curtail and restrict the legitimate activities of any nongovernmental group it doesn’t like,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This law will become a dangerous tool to limit freedom of association, and the provisions relating to nongovernmental organizations should be withdrawn immediately.”

The law would also apply to international civil society groups operating in Turkey.

Following a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, the Turkish government ruled the country under a state of emergency that was in force until 2018, during which a total of 1,748 associations and foundations were shut down by decree-laws. According to Turkish Minute, courts have still not rendered judgments on appeals filed by these organizations against their closure after nearly four years.

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