Middle East

Turkey increases spy agency's powers

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) greets members of parliament from his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara on April 8, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkey's parliament on Thursday approved a bill that increases the powers and immunities of the country's spy agency. It's the latest in a string of moves that critics say is undermining the country's democracy.

The bill, which requires presidential approval, would give Turkey's National Intelligence Agency, or MIT, the ability to launch covert operations and wider access to the personal data of citizens. It would also introduce prison terms for the publication of secret documents.

The government insists the overhaul will make the agency more efficient.

Opposition parties say the bill grants the agency far-reaching powers that will turn Turkey into a surveillance state. It has vowed to seek its cancellation at Turkey's highest court.

"The new legislation will destroy the last scraps of democracy and law left in Turkey," said opposition Republican People's Party lawmaker Atilla Kart.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay rejected accusations that the agency was being given extraordinary powers, insisting MIT would act within Turkish laws.

"We want to create an intelligence agency that suits a powerful state but which acts within the law," he said.

The legislation is the latest step by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to tighten his grip on state agencies as his government fights allegations of corruption. Erdogan accuses followers of a U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, of infiltrating Turkey's police and judiciary and instigating the graft probe to discredit the government.

Since the corruption scandal emerged in December, the government has given the justice minister increased powers over the judiciary, tightened government controls over the Internet, shut down Twitter and YouTube and removed thousands of police officers and prosecutors from duty.

Turkey's highest court has since overturned the Twitter ban and annulled the justice minister's authority over the judiciary.





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