A bill which increases the powers of Turkey’s intelligence service was passed by its parliament on Thursday.
Government opponents say that this will lead to an even more authoritarian state. The law which extends the power and immunities of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), now only requires President Gul’s signature.
The controversial bill which has been debated in parliament for weeks will give the MIT further scope to eavesdrop and to launch foreign operations. It will also enable senior agents to operate under immunity from prosecution.
Prime Minister Erdogan has been waging a war with ex-ally Fethullah Gulen who lives in self-imposed exile in the US. The cleric who gave Erdogan support to gain promotion in the ruling AK party has been accused of operating a ‘parallel state’, which Erdogan claims intends to bring down the government. Gulen has consistently denied these charges.
An investigation into a corruption scandal which became public on 17th December, 2013 led to the sacking or re-assignment of thousands of police and prosecutors who, Erdogan claims, were part of the plot.
Now Erdogan seeks to tighten his grip on the state machinery following widespread phone tapping and accusations of corruption against those near to the prime minister. Recently, the leaking of sensitive telephone conversations via social media websites such as YouTube and Twitter, prompted Erdogan to ban access to both websites. A high court later declared the ban on YouTube and in a separate case, Twitter to be unconstitutional and contrary to freedom of speech.
The government has tried to persuade its critics by insisting that the new bill will make the agency more efficient and allow it to meet “new security and foreign policy needs.” However, the parliamentary commission which was created to oversee all the country’s intelligence organisations was not given full authority to inspect the MIT.
The new security bill ensures that anyone who leaks classified material will face a prison sentence.
Opposition parties say the bill grants the agency far-reaching powers and will turn Turkey into a surveillance state. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli described the bill as being “wrong from top to toe” and warned that it could lead to the return of the 1970s’ “torture chambers.”