Turkey ignoring court ruling to seek extended background checks on state workers

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its parliamentary partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are seeking to pass legislation that extends background and security checks for people entering public service for the first time, despite a ruling by the country's highest court in favour of removing such obligations from the law.

Following the failed coup attempt in 2016, an amendment was made in the law that obliged potential employees to pass security checks without detailing how the enquiries and related research would be carried out.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Nov. 29 passed a ruling demanding the removal of the compulsory security checks, saying it violated basic rights and freedoms, after over 100 lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) applied to cancel the law.

However, the government is now pressing ahead with an expanded version of the legislation. 

The proposal, approved by the Parliamentary Internal Affairs Commission, says background checks will be extended to new public servants’ spouses and first-degree relatives, as well as their parents-in-law.

People who apply for military schools, police colleges and non commissioned officer high schools, who are between the ages of 14 and 18, will be subject to security checks. Their first-degree relatives will also be investigated.

Some fear that retrospective research and security checks may pave the way for blacklisting people for their actions before the age of criminal responsibility and that retroactive charges could be brought against their family members or spouses.

In an investigation launched in the southern province of Adana last week, 17 people were detained on the grounds that they threw stones at police vehicle during a protest in 2011 when they were aged between just 10 and 14 years old in 2011, and 12 of them were arrested on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation.

Several CHP members in the western province of Izmir were detained in a similar case recently due to an investigation into their tweets sent 10 years ago when they were minors.

Deputy Interior Minister Mehmet Ersoy said that background and security checks were vital to vet potential employees and to avoid violating the rights of cadets. He said it is a fairer practice to conduct security checks before admission rather than after their graduation.

However, the CHP dismissed the draft law as an attempt by the AKP to form loyal security forces.

CHP Istanbul lawmaker Erdoğan Toprak said the proposed law was designed "to stop all those who are not loyal to the government from serving in the army, police or the state".

"Besides, there is no guarantee that the commission in charge of carrying out security investigations and archive checks, will not make arbitrary or political decisions. What is the reliability criteria for these commission members who will decide on the future of young people and have the authority to effectively prevent them from being recruited in public or private sectors?" Toprak said.

"This is a step that will cause the whole society to doubt each other, to inform on them, and to make one's life miserable with false reports. This is a practice specific to authoritarian and despotic regimes," he added.

He said the government had not even "disdained to" read the Constitutional Court's ruling, which said obtaining, recording and using the information on an individual's private, professional and social life implies a restriction over the right to privacy, adding that the concerns were exacerbated by the obscure definition of how enquiries and related archive research would be carried out. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP has also been criticised over its efforts to expand the ranks and powers of the country’s force of neighbourhood watchmen after the coup attempt.

The further arming and empowerment of the force has raised fears that the group will be used to enhance the Turkish leader’s authoritarian leadership. Erdoğan’s political opponents are depicting the initiative as an attempt to form a new and loyal paramilitary force.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.