Turkey’s parliament will resume debating a controversial bill this week augmenting the powers of a neighborhood watch force that critics charge is linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing efforts to stamp out all dissent and cement one-man rule.
If the legislation is adopted, an existing force of around 28,500 neighborhood watchmen will have the right to frisk citizens, demand identification, search their cars and use their weapons and force if needed. The vagueness of their expanded mandate, which includes “preventing crimes” and “preventing public gatherings deemed to disrupt public order” as well as “locating” individuals wanted by the police, has raised alarm. The bill says the implementation of its articles fall directly under the authority of the president.
Opposition lawmakers have sought to block its passage but to no avail thus far. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his far-right allies from the Nationalist Action Party have 340 seats between them in the 600-member legislature, enough to pass the law unimpeded. Some seven of its 18 articles have already been adopted. Watchmen, a formerly benign force, have been deployed for decades but their numbers have been rising in recent years.
Cihangir Islam, an independent in the Turkish parliament, said, “The watchmen are going to be a third armed force responsible for internal security alongside the police and the gendarmerie, as in closed and tough regimes, where intelligence and armed forces exist to keep each other in check.” Islam continued in an interview with the news site Diken, “The prevailing worry is that its purpose is not so much to provide security for citizens as to keep them under control.”
Another is that the force will take it upon itself to police morals. “Who knows, maybe that’s what is wanted of them,” Islam speculated.