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Turkey: Tightening of Regulation on Meetings and Demonstrations

(Aug. 7, 2015) On August 5, 2015, amendments to the Regulation on Implementation of the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations were published in the Resmi Gazete, Turkey’s official gazette. The amendments introduce new limits on the organization of demonstrations by individuals. (Legal Changes Introduced to Limit Holding of Demonstrations, TODAY’S ZAMAN (Aug. 5, 2015); Toplanti ve Gösteri Yürüyüsleri Kanununun Uygulanmasina dair Yönetmelik [Regulation on Implementation of the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations] [the Regulation] (Aug. 8, 1985, as last amended Aug. 5, 2015); Toplanti ve Gösteri Yürüyüsleri Yönetmeligi degisti, CNN TURK (Aug. 5, 2015).)

The amended Regulation states that the route of any public meeting or demonstration march must first be shown to the district or province representatives of the political parties in the Turkish Parliament, along with the heads of the district or province and the three unions that have the highest number of members, and also to public professional organizations. Permission for a march will be given by the locality’s highest civil authority, and the location of a meeting or demonstration or the route of a march can be changed if necessary to ensure public order and peace. (Mesut Hasan Benli, New Decree to Restrict Use of Assembly and Demonstration Rights in Turkey, HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS (Aug. 5 2015); Regulation, art. 3(a).)

The Regulation prescribes that a governor or district governor may delay the starting time of a meeting or demonstration by 24 hours without any advance notification given; the amended regulation newly authorizes the governor or district governor to postpone the holding of a demonstration for up to a month or to prohibit it if it poses a “clear and imminent danger” to public order. (Legal Changes Introduced to Limit Holding of Demonstrations, supra; Regulation, art. 23.) If it is found that events occur in violation of the law during a public meeting or demonstration, the local civilian authority is to be immediately notified to take the “necessary measures” with the means available to disperse the assembly using a warning or, if it does not disperse, harsher methods such as pressurized or dyed water or any other forceful means at hand. Police officers are newly authorized under the amended Regulation to detain demonstrators without the advance warning if the officers have determined that such persons committed an offense during the event. (Legal Changes Introduced to Limit Holding of Demonstrations, supra; Regulation, art. 16(H) & (L) ¶ 1.)

Duties of the seven-person steering committee that oversees public meetings and demonstrations have been expanded to include preventing people from bringing “firearms or fireworks, Molotov and other handmade explosives, any kind of cutting or drilling tools, stones or sticks, iron or rubber rods, choke wire or chain, iron pellets or slingshots, bruising or asphyxiating tools, caustic, abrasive, harmful chemicals or any other poisons or any kind of smoke, gas, and other substances” to such meetings or demonstrations; informing the security forces of the presence of such persons; and assisting in their capture. (Regulation, art. 9(E).)

The steering committee also has the duty to prevent protesters who are wearing clothes that have the emblems of illegal organizations or that resemble uniforms or who are hiding their identities by completely or partially covering their faces from attending public meetings or demonstrations and to assist in their being detained by the security forces. (Regulation, art. 9(F).) Similar changes in the prohibition against bringing the above-listed weapons to demonstrations and wearing concealing clothing were made in March 2015 to the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations. (Polis Vazife ve Salâhiyet Kanunu, Jandarma Teskilat, Görev ve Yetkileri Kanunu ile Bazi Kanunlarda Degisiklik Yapilmasina dair Kanun [Law on Amending the Law on the Powers and Duties of the Police, the Law on the Gendarmerie Organization, Duties and Authorities, and Some [Other] Laws], Law No. 6638 (Mar. 27, 2015), Grand National Assembly website [“Some [Other] Laws” includes the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations].)

The steering committee also has the responsibility, according to the amended Regulation, to prevent speech that incites people to commit crimes. (Regulation, art. 9(G).) Security forces are to remove from the scene any persons who have such materials or who carry illegal posters, banners, or equipment, voice illegal slogans, or make illegal broadcasts. (Regulation, art. 16(G).)

Law enforcement agencies may also record sounds and images of the participants and speakers at public meetings and demonstrations. The recordings and images obtained are not to be used for any other purpose, according to the Regulation, than to identify criminal suspects and provide evidence. (Regulation, art. 16(L) ¶ 2.)

In the view of the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, the increased restrictions imposed by the amendment to the regulation that implements the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations “violate the right to organize, which is cited among the basic rights in the Constitution.” (Legal Changes Introduced to Limit Holding of Demonstrations, supra; Constitution of the Republic of Turkey (Oct. 18, 1982, as amended), art. 34, Grand National Assembly of the Republic of Turkey website.)