Turkey unveils stringent new anti-protest laws

Dilay Gundogan
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Turkish riot policemen clash with Kurdish protestors in Istanbul, on October 8, 2014

Turkish riot policemen clash with Kurdish protestors in Istanbul, on October 8, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu unveiled sweeping new security laws branded as repressive by critics, saying those in possession of banned objects at protests would face up to four years in jail.

The changes were first announced last week by the Islamic-rooted government following deadly protests in Istanbul and the Kurdish-majority southeast over Turkey's Syria policy.

Davutoglu said the legislation is aimed at ending the ambiguity over the use in demonstrations of "weapons of violence", including Molotov cocktails, stones and other sharp objects.

Those protestors possessing such objects -- not currently regarded as a crime -- will be detected and banned from entering rallies.

Police will be able to arrest those suspected of possessing such objects at a protest, and those convicted could face up to four years in jail, he added.

"Molotov cocktails are weapons of violence. If someone sets fire to ambulances, libraries, mosques or koranic institutions by throwing Molotov cocktails... we cannot call this freedom," Davutoglu told a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara.

He said the bill calls for stricter punishment for offenders wearing masks to conceal their identity, damaging public property, as well as resisting the police.

The detention time limit will be doubled to 48 hours, Davutoglu said.

Police will also be given greater authority to search demonstrators or their houses, without the need for "concrete evidence".

"Calls for violence" through social media will also be recognised a crime, he said.

The legislation will make it easier for authorities to wiretap suspects and allow for these recordings to be used as evidence.

- 'Don't call it authoritarian' -

At least 34 people were killed and 360 wounded earlier this month when Kurds took to streets over Turkey's lack of support for the mainly-Kurdish Syrian border town of Kobane, which is under attack from Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Over 1,000 people were detained for their involvement in the protests which caused damage to hundreds of public buildings.

The heavy-handed tactics used by Turkish police, who frequently resort to tear gas and water cannon, have drawn widespread criticism from rights groups at home and abroad.

A brutal police crackdown on anti-government protests in May-June 2013 left eight people dead and thousands injured.

The reform package has sparked outrage from the opposition, which said it would turn Turkey into a "police state" and threaten citizens' right to protest.

But Davutoglu said it is aimed at "strengthening the guarantee of public liberties and security".

He also warned foreign media not to characterise the reforms as authoritarian, saying the same measures are in place in other countries.

"Media outlets in Europe should not make a fuss about this law... They need to engage in self-criticism first," he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also lashed out at criticism of the legislation, saying the government was taking the same measures "as Europe and the US".

"I personally know how the security forces in the West handle violence and vandalism," Erdogan told a symposium in Ankara.

The legislation will also impose tougher penalties for drug dealers, who are "seeking to eradicate the next generations" and "will be treated like terrorists", Davutoglu said.

These measures are part of a crackdown on bonzai, a synthetic drug which has become a serious social problem in Turkey.