A two-year state of emergency imposed after Turkey’s failed 2016 coup will end on Thursday but Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents say his new executive presidency and a draft anti-terrorism law leave him with sweeping powers to stifle dissent.
Since emergency rule was declared, more than 150,000 civil servants have been purged and 77,000 people suspected of links to the attempted coup have been charged, in a crackdown criticised by rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies.
Ahead of elections last month, Erdogan promised to lift the state of emergency if re-elected, but he said the government would also introduce new counter-terrorism legislation and take tough action against any threat to Turkey’s security.
Opponents say little will change at midnight on Wednesday, when the latest three-month extension of emergency rule lapses.
‘Although the government is trying to disguise the new laws as an end to the state of emergency, what’s really going on is that the state of emergency is being made permanent,’ Ayhan Bilgen, spokesman for the pro-Kurdish HDP party, said.
New anti-terrorism laws, which the government says will prevent ‘an interruption in the fight against terrorism’, will be discussed in parliament on Thursday.
The proposed law grants local governors authority to limit access for specific people to parts of their province if they suspect the person will disrupt public order.
It also allows authorities to press ahead with mass dismissals of civil servants and hold suspects in custody for up to 12 days. It also broadens the scope to ban demonstrations.
Authorities say the crackdown following the failed 2016 coup, blamed on the network of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen which the government refers to as FETO, was crucial to preserve Turkey’s security.
They say the president’s new powers and the proposed legislation are also needed to help confront threats from conflict in neighbouring Syria and Iraq as well as an insurgency by Kurdish militants in the southeast.
‘Ending the state of emergency should not be deemed as ending our fight against terror,’ Justice Minister Abulhamit Gul said this week. ‘The most persistent and determined fight against all kinds of terrorism, especially the FETO, will continue til the end.’
The International Commission of Jurists, a group of judges, lawyers and legal scholars who campaign for human rights, welcomed the end of the state of emergency but said Turkey must repair a rupture to the rule of law.
‘We remain concerned that many of the emergency measures have been given permanent effect in Turkish law and will have pernicious and lasting consequences for the enjoyment of human rights and for the rule of law in Turkey,’ said Massimo Frigo, a legal adviser to the ICJ.
Lifting the state of emergency has been a demand of Turkey’s main business lobby. An executive of the TUSIAD business group said in January that foreign investors had been deterred by the repeated extension of its three-month terms.
Since the coup attempt, Turkey’s lira has lost more than a third of its value against the dollar, hit by double-digit inflation and fears that Erdogan - who opposes raising interest rates to curb prices rises - is seeking greater control over the Central Bank.
A source close to the presidential palace said the state of emergency may have affected investor perception of Turkey, but the country was moving on and it was wrong to portray the new legislation as an extension of the emergency rule.
‘We would have extended the state of emergency if it was necessary. This period of two years was an obligation, and it was never used against our citizens or businesses,’ the source said.
‘The state of emergency was creating a different perception for investors, especially foreign investors. With the new law, this cause for concern will have been removed.’