Turkey's Parliament approved a new law on Thursday, granting the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) greater powers and immunities, and making the leaking of classified documents an offense punishable by a jail term.
Critics say the move is an attempt by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to tighten his grip on the country and turn it into a police state, reports the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News. Two weeks ago Erdogan's AKP party won fiercely-contested local elections, after which he threatened that his rivals will "pay the price."
The increased punishment for leaking documents is particularly meaningful given a recent torrent of leaks implicating Erdogan's inner circle in corruption, among other things. In response, Erdogan blocked the social media site Twitter on March 20.
That ban was lifted following a ruling by Turkey's highest court two weeks ago and despite complaints by Erdogan, but just prior to that Erdogan's government blocked YouTube over more corruption leaks.
The new law, which was passed by a parliament dominated by Erdogan's AKP party, allows the MIT to more easily eavesdrop and conduct foreign operations. It further gives top agents greater immunity from prosecution.
A bill to return to 1970s' "torture chambers"
Criticism has come quickly over the newly approved bill, which Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli described as “wrong from top to toe,” warning it could lead to the return of the 1970s' "torture chambers."
The Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP) argued the new law would turn the MIT into being in the private service of Erdogan, calling it an assault on free speech and a reversal of Turkey's democratic process. Turkey already has the dubious status of the country with the most imprisoned journalists.
Hurriyet Daily News claims that the question of control over the MIT is part of a struggle between Erdogan and Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan based in the US.
Erdogan accuses Gulen's network of followers in influential positions in the police and judiciary of being behind leaked recordings targeting him for removal over corruption; Gulen denies the accusations.