On 17 April, the Turkish Parliament passed a law increasing the power and immunity of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). The new law amends the previous law dating back to 1983, clearly aiming towards making the MİT more powerful and less accountable. In short, the law negatively impacts on freedom of press, decreases government accountability, increases the state’s capacity to monitor its citizens and makes MİT operatives immune from prosecution, regardless of any human rights abuse they might commit.
According to the new law, the Council of Ministers can authorise operational duties to the MİT on any issues related to external security, counter-terrorism and national security. Turkey has a track record of using broad and vague language to silence critical news and opinion and allow the state “interpretation” of the law. It is therefore not unsurprising, but troubling that the definition of “national security” is vague and unclear, permitting the MIT to carry out operations against anyone that the government deems a “national security threat”. Given how polarised Turkish society is, any group that opposes the government could easily become the target of MIT operations.
Under the new law, the activities of the MIT are kept completely secret from the public. Journalists and editors who dare to publish leaked intelligence documents, or provide information on national intelligence activities or personnel face maximum sentences of a staggering ten years in jail. Issues relating to “national security”, and in fact any issues the government claims to be related to national security, are effectively barred from public debate and closed off from public scrutiny. The public is effectively prevented from holding the government and its institutions accountable.
The MİT is also permitted to demand and collect private data from all public institutions, all legal entities, as well as institutions without a legal personality. This particular aspect of the law undermines the individual right to privacy, and also makes the MİT unaccountable as it is able to access data without requiring a court order.
Another implication of the law is that if a person is seen to prevent the MİT from carrying out its duties and exercising its authority, they could be liable to a prison sentence of two to five years. As the MİT is allowed access to confidential data, refusing to provide the MİT with information could be interpreted as interfering in their work, leading to imprisonment.
The law gives MİT operatives immunity, even if they have violated fundamental human rights – e.g. for example the right not to be subjected to torture – in the course of their duties. As a consequence, MİT personnel are not accountable to public prosecutors, and public courts are not permitted to investigate claims of offence. The MİT is placed above the law.
These developments are particularly worrying given the current political climate. Over the past year, the AKP government has proven hostile in the face of criticism and has progressively implemented laws increasing its power over different branches of state. The result has been the gradual erosion of the rule of law and the principle of a separation of powers. In this respect, the new MİT law is a threat to Turkey’s ability to effectively protect human rights and is likely to deal a serious blow to its human rights record.