NGO bill threatens Turkey’s civil society, HRW says

A draft law that Turkish parliament is set to vote on Thursday threatens the right to freedom of speech and curtails the activities of non-governmental organisations, Human Rights Watch said in a written statement.

The civil rights bill, called the "Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”, was submitted last week by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The draft law was “introduced to comply with a United Nations Security Council counterterrorism resolution and in response to a 2019 report by the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental money-laundering and terrorism financing watchdog”, HRW said on Thursday. “But its provisions greatly exceed the aim of preventing financing of terrorism and weapons proliferation.”

Some of the measures in the bill include requesting permission for accepting donations, limiting online fundraising and subjecting NGOs through inspections by the Interior Ministry or local authorities if delegated. One specific section allows for the government to appoint trustees to NGO boards and initiate a shutdown of their activities based on inspection reports rather than a court decision. 

“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 non-governmental group it doesn’t like,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

The AKP government has cracked down on Turkey’s civil society organisations particularly since a failed coup in July 2016. Hundreds of associations and foundations have been shut down by the authorities under the pretext of having links to terrorism.