Turkish parliament passes complete NGO bill

(The article has been updated with Turkish parliament passing the complete NGO bill)

The Turkish parliament passed a new law early on Sunday that would tighten state oversight of civil society organisations and, according to rights groups, threaten to curtail their activities.

The bill, titled the "Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”, subjects non-governmental organisations to Interior Ministry inspections and requests for permission to accept donations – limiting online fundraising. It also 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. 

International organisations will also be included under the law and penalised accordingly.

The law, drafted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), 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 (FATF), an intergovernmental money-laundering and terrorism financing watchdog.

However, Human Rights Watch said provisions “greatly exceeded” the aim of preventing financing of terrorism and weapons proliferation.

“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.

Şule Özsoy-Boyunsuz, an academic specialised in Constitutional law from Galatasaray University, said the law was unconstitutional and had nothing to do with preventing the financing of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

"I think that this legislation does not suit the principle of social state,” Boyunsuz told Bianet on Friday. "It is nothing other than an attack targeting the freedom of association and raising donations.”

On Saturday, parliament amended one of the articles in the draft bill which allowed the government to remove any administrators in a union, association or foundation when an investigation was launched upon suspicion of financing terrorism, manufacturing or trafficking drugs, or laundering money made via criminal activity. In the form that passed parliament, the government will be able to remove NGO officials from their posts after a court accepts an indictment against them.

During parliamentary discussions, main opposition centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Utku Çakırözer said the draft aimed to “implement with associations the appointee system imposed on municipalities”, referring to elected mayors in Turkey’s east and southeast being dismissed and replaced with government-appointed proxies after facing terrorism charges.

“This is a great coup against the right to civilian organisation in the Constitution and the laws,” Çakırözer said.

More than 630 organisations have signed a petition against the bill, saying it goes against the Constitution and the freedom of assembly.

“The proposal violates the freedom to assembly, the principles of equality before the law and the presumption of innocence, the freedom to establish associations, and the right to property,” pro-Kurdish left-wing opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Abdullah Koç said in parliament.

CHP deputy Süleyman Bülbül said the bill left out Recommendation No.12 by the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental organisation against money laundering and terrorism financing, while focusing on restricting constitutional rights and freedoms. Recommendation No.12 includes provisions against persons with political influence.

“The FATF recommendation says beneficiaries can be a politician or an institution, and as such, measures should be implemented for their family members and other persons close to them, but the draft bill has nothing of the sort,” Bülbül said.

AKP deputy Sabri Öztürk defended the bill, saying Turkey needs international cooperation to succeed in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy for decades, and Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ). FETÖ is the name Turkey uses for the followers of the AKP’s former ally Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara holds responsible for several attempts to overthrow the government.