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Can Turkey Create a Shield Around Its Illegal Activities?

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The new Turkish law (No. 7242) allows Turkish government authorities, including intelligence and law enforcement agencies, to take convicts and detainees out of prison for up to 15 days. This controversial law, which came into effect on April 15, 2020, applies to inmates who were convicted of terrorism and organized crime charges. The reason behind this controversial change and its possible consequences are critical and worthy to investigate. In order to foresee possible answers to this question, it is necessary to look at the historical background of the AKP regime.

The discourse of universal values ​​and democratization, core principles that were centralized by the AKP administration at the onset of its political life, began to swerve after the Constitutional referendum in 2010, and accelerated in the following of Gezi Park events in May 2013, and the corruption operation in December 2013. The process of derailment from the core values gradually gained momentum and peaked after the questionable coup attempt on July 15, 2015. It can easily be seen that the lawless mayhem of the last six years stamped illegality as a central tenet for the long governing force of the country. Although, AKP’s transition from conservative democracy to chaotic dictatorship was seemingly triggered by its effort to cover its crimes, it has always been an eventuality with such a long reign of power and unchecked authority. Therefore, covering crimes with even more crimes was not so hard for this chaotic regime. So much so that by 2020, all kinds of lawlessness and illegality were institutionalized at the center of the Erdogan regime, and systematic torture has become an ordinary part of the criminal investigations against the opponents.

Although this legislation was interpreted in the Turkish media as “MIT (Turkish National Intelligence Agency) is given the authority to take inmates out of prison” the fact that the clause, “the request of the relevant authority,” was left vague in the text of law shows that “any governmental body” can request any inmate from the prison under the control of the AKP regime. This can only mean one thing; the clause was deliberately written in vague language and an encompassing manner, as opposed to pointing to a single entity or opting for a more limiting clause such as “intelligence units” or “law enforcement units.”

At this point, the question that raises concern is that which agencies or who would take inmates out of prison for two weeks. In seeking the answer, Erdogan regime’s interest towards the jihadist groups in conflict regions and its activities in those regions come to mind at first. If we recollect Erdogan’s alternative army, called SADAT, both for the training it provided to the Radical Islamic jihadist groups in the conflict zones, and for the operations they carried out with the jihadist groups they trained in the conflict zones such as Syria and Libya; it is highly likely that, through this law, they would want to take inmates out of prison for training and use them illegally in short-term operations/actions abroad, or even at homeland. The fact that SADAT and similar entities operate directly under Erdogan and there is no judicial or parliamentary control on them. This increases the concerns. Exploting the new law,  Erdogan regime can quickly train and organize radical jihadist groups in the conflict zones.

Even if the issued law is interpreted the way it is presented by the Turkish media, that is, if MIT is given the power to temporarily collect inmates from the prisons, an important question comes up that  why would an intelligence agency need to take out an inmate for 15 days when it is already possible to carry out an interview at the prison?

The statement “regarding the crimes committed within the framework of terrorism and organizational activity” in the new law clearly shows that the scope of the law is not limited to terrorism, but may also include organized crime (mafia). However, under normal circumstances, counterterrorism and organized crime investigations are carried out by the Police and the Gendarmerie on behalf of the prosecution, in other words, MIT is not a law enforcement unit and has no authority to conduct a judicial investigation. For what  reasons can an intelligence agency take an inmate out of prison and what would be its potential consequences?

The concerns about SADAT are also valid for MIT. Similar to SADAT MIT also has an interest and close relationship with the jihadists in the conflict zones. This interest and close relationship can turn into scandals when it cannot be controlled. For example, when the 2012 MIT (February 7) Crisis and the incident of MIT trucks in 2014 are recalled, it is seen that intelligence units can easily slip into illegal activities if they find a ground. For this, multi-perspective and multi-faceted control mechanisms such as judicial and legislative oversight and accountability applies for intelligence activities only in democratic societies. However, the Erdogan regime wants to use intelligence in its illegal activities in line with its own personal and organizational interests and purposes, as well as other state agencies in its journey towards authoritarianism, and in this context, he has eliminated the checks and balances over the intelligence and introduced legal regulations in order to protect those who are involved in illegal practices.

For example, with the legal regulation No. 6532, which came into force on February 26, 2014, both the jurisdiction of intelligence has expanded and become quite ambiguous. The clause “fulfilling the duties assigned by the Council of Ministers in matters related to external security, counterterrorism, and national security,” written in the first article of this law allows the definition of intelligence to be determined by the current government’s council of ministers (not the parliament). This legal arrangement also brought special protection shields to MIT members and exempted them from judicial control by making it possible for prosecutors to open an investigation against intelligence personnel only by obtaining the approval of the very institution that is being investigated. Article 6 of the legal amendment numbered 6532 is as follows;

When the Public prosecutors receive any denouncement or complaint regarding the duties and activities of MIT or its members, or when they learn about such a situation, they inform the MIT Undersecretariat. If the MIT Undersecretariat states or certifies that the matter is related to its duties and activities, no further judicial action is taken, and no judicial protection measures are imposed.”

After the questionable coup attempt on July 15, 2015, it is known that Erdogan used intelligence units extensively in his illegal activities and violations of rights carried out against his opponents. In this context, when the claims of the lawyers, bar associations, opposition parliamentarians and the allegations in the social media are taken into consideration, the following points become more clear;

– Torture chambers were established within the police departments,
– Many people were tortured during the detention process in police custody,
– In addition to the police personnel, some intelligence personnel also involved in torture
– A total of 28 people have been kidnapped/lost since 2016,
– The abducted persons were taken to the Special Activities Directorate known as the torture farm of MIT,
– These people have been forced to become confessors to crimes they did not commit under torture.
– Some of the kidnapped people were left in front of the police stations with the physical and mental scars of torture, while others are still not heard of,

Although these allegations were continuously reported by the defense counsels of the accused people and by the bar associations with  concrete evidences, all these allegations were ignored by the Erdogan regime. The authorities did not even bother themselves for  review or investigation. The requests for the establishment of research commissions, which were given to the parliament by the opposition parliamentarians regarding these torture and abduction claims, were also constantly rejected by the Erdogan administration.

If an intelligence agency, which is not subject to any kind of judicial and parliamentary supervision, and operates outside the control of prosecutors and judges and, most importantly, which has many kidnapping and torture allegations against it, is given the authority to remove any inmate of any kind from prison, this power will lead to more  torture incidents, not only in the process of police custody but also during the detention process. It is obvious that it will make the systematic torture more prevalent and lead to severe human rights violations. Beyond that, it will give a sense of legal assurance to those who engage in such inhumane and illegal activities under the veil of official duties.

Although the Erdogan regime passed these laws to  protect its personnel who are involved in such inhumane and corrupt practices,  these legal amendments violate the spirit of the rule of law and the universal values and won’t be able to protect the personnel that engaged in international crimes and torture and authorities. It should be remembered that Turkish Republic  had given so much effort to establish democratic values and reach EU standards and there is no doubt that Turkey will turn back to its core values after the Erdogan regime.  When that time comes, such legal obstructions won’t be able to stop the questioning of these unjust and illegal activities that are truly contrary to the spirit of the rule of law.

Fatih Beren, PhD Adjunct Faculty at Department of Criminology, Law & Society College of Humanities and Social Sciences, George Mason University

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Saudi Arabia steps up effort to replace UAE and Qatar as go-to regional hub

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Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to outflank the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the Gulf’s commercial, cultural, and/or geostrategic hub.

The kingdom has recently expanded its challenge to the smaller Gulf states by seeking to position Saudi Arabia as the region’s foremost sport destination once Qatar has had its moment in the sun with the 2022 World Cup as well as secure a stake in the management of regional ports and terminals dominated so far by the UAE and to a lesser extent Qatar.

Saudi Arabia kicked off its effort to cement its position as the region’s behemoth with an announcement in February that it would cease doing business by 2024 with international companies whose regional headquarters were not based in the kingdom. 

With the UAE ranking 16 on the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index as opposed to Saudi Arabia at number 62, freewheeling Dubai has long been international business’s preferred regional headquarters.

The Saudi move “clearly targets the UAE” and “challenges the status of Dubai,” said a UAE-based banker.

A latecomer to the port control game which is dominated by Dubai’s DP World that operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, the kingdom’s expansion into port and terminal management appears to be less driven by geostrategic considerations.

Instead, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was targeting ports that would service vital Saudi imports such as those related to food security.

PIF and China’s Cosco Shipping Ports each bought a 20 per cent stake in RSGT in January.

The Chinese investment fits into China’s larger Belt and Road-strategy that involves the acquisition regionally of stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

RSGT Chief Executive Officer Jens Floe said the company planned to invest in at least three international ports in the next five years. He said each investment would be up to US$500 million.

“We have a focus on ports in Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t picked for that reason, but they happen to be significant countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” Mr. Floe said.

Saudi Arabia’s increased focus on sports, including a potential bid for the hosting of the 2030 World Cup serves multiple goals: It offers Saudi youth who account for more than half of the kingdom’s population a leisure and entertainment opportunity, it boosts Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s burgeoning development of a leisure and entertainment industry, potentially allows Saudi Arabia to polish its image tarnished by human rights abuse, including the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and challenges Qatar’s position as the face of Middle Eastern sports.

A recent report by Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group that focuses on Saudi Arabia and China, estimated that the kingdom has so far invested in US$1.5 billion in the hosting of multiple sporting events, including the final matches of Italy and Spain’s top soccer leagues; Formula One; boxing, wrestling and snooker matches; and golf tournaments. Qatar is so far the Middle East’s leader in the hosting of sporting events followed by the UAE.

Grant Liberty said that further bids for sporting events worth US$800 million had failed. This did not include an unsuccessful US$600 million offer to replace Qatar’s beIN tv sports network as the Middle Eastern broadcaster of European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia reportedly continues to ban beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom despite the lifting in January of 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy and ween it off dependency on oil exports “has set the creation of professional sports and a sports industry as one of its goals… The kingdom is proud to host and support various athletic and sporting events which not only introduce Saudis to new sports and renowned international athletes but also showcase the kingdom’s landmarks and the welcoming nature of its people to the world,” said Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.

The increased focus on sports comes as the kingdom appears to be backing away from its intention to reduce the centrality of energy exports for its economy.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother, recently ridiculed an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” as “the sequel of the La La Land movie.” The minister went on to ask, “Why should I take (the report) seriously?”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Saudi Arabia intends to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to more than 13 million barrels a day on the assumption that global efforts to replace fossil fuel with cleaner energy sources will spark sharp reductions in US and Russian production.

The kingdom’s operating assumption is that demand in Asia for fossil fuels will continue to rise even if it drops in the West. Other Gulf producers, including the UAE and Qatar, are following a similar strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer an oil country, it’s an energy-producing country … a very competitive energy country. We are low cost in producing oil, low cost in producing gas, and low cost in producing renewables and will definitely be the least-cost producer of hydrogen,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

He appeared to be suggesting that the kingdom’s doubling down on oil was part of strategy that aims to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a player in all conventional and non-conventional aspects of energy. By implication, Prince Abdulaziz was saying that diversification was likely to broaden the kingdom’s energy offering rather than significantly reduce its dependence on energy exports.

“Sports, entertainment, tourism and mining alongside other industries envisioned in Vision 2030 are valuable expansions of the Saudi economy that serve multiple economic and non-economic purposes,” “ said a Saudi analyst. “It’s becoming evident, however, that energy is likely to remain the real name of the game.”

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Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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Powershift in Knesset: A Paradigm of Israel’s Political Instability

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The dynamics of the Middle East are changing faster than anyone ever expected. For instance, no sage mind ever expected Iran to undergo a series of talks with the US and European nations to negotiate sanctions and curb its nuclear potential. And certainly, no political pundit could have predicted a normalization of diplomacy between Israel and a handful of Arab countries. The shocker apparently doesn’t end there. The recent shift in Israeli politics is a historic turnaround; a peculiar outcome of the 11-day clash. To probe, early June, a pack of eight opposition parties reached a coalition agreement to establish Israel’s 36th government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. While the political impasse has partly subsided, neither the 12-year prime minister is feeble nor is the fragile opposition strong enough to uphold an equilibrium.

Mr. Netanyahu currently serves as the caretaker prime minister of Israel. While the charges of corruption inhibited his drive in the office, he was responsible to bring notable achievements for Israel in the global diplomatic missions. Mr. Netanyahu, since assuming office in 2009, has bagged several diplomatic victories; primarily in reference to the long-standing conflict with Palestine and by extension, the Arab world. He managed to persuade former US President Donald J. Trump to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the contentious city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he managed to strike off the Palestinian mission in Washington whilst gaining success in severing US from the nuclear agreement with Iran. To the right-wing political gurus, Mr. Netanyahu stood as a symbolic figure to project the aspirations of the entire rightest fraction.

However, the pegs turned when Mr. Netanyahu refused to leave the office while facing a corruption trial. What he deemed as a ‘Backdoor Coup Attempt’ was rather criticized by his own base as a ruse of denial. By denying the charges and desecrating the judges hearing his case, Mr. Netanyahu started to undercut the supremacy of law. While he still had enough support to float above water, he lost the whelming support of the rightest faction which resulted in the most unstable government and four inconclusive elections in the past two years.

While Mr. Netanyahu was given the baton earlier by President Reuven Rivlin, he failed to convince his bedfellow politicians to join the rightest agenda. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu probably hoped to regain support by inciting a head-on collision with the Palestinians. The scheme backfired as along with the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the tremors overtook Israel’s own Arab-Jewish cities resulting in mass chaos. The burning of Mosques and local Synagogues was hardly the expectation. Thus, both the raucous sentiment pervading the streets of Israel as well as the unstable nature of the Netanyahu-government led the rightest parties to switch sides.

As Mr. Netanyahu failed to convince a coalition government, the task was handed to Mr. Yair Lapid, a centrist politician. While the ideologies conflicted in the coalition he tried to forge, his counterparts, much like him, preferred to sideline the disputes in favor of dethroning Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid joined hands with a pool of political ideologies, the odd one being the conservative Yamina party led by the veteran politician, Mr. Naftali Bennett. While Mr. Lapid has been a standard-bearer for secular Israelis, Mr. Bennett has been a stout nationalist, being the standard-bearer for the rightest strata. To add oil to the fire, the 8-party coalition also includes an Arab Islamist party, Raam. A major conflict of beliefs and motivations.

Although the coalition has agreed to focus on technocratic issues and compromise on the ideological facets, for the time being, both the rightest and the leftish parties would be under scrutiny to justify the actions of the coalition as a whole. Mr. Bennett would be enquired about his take on the annexation of occupied West Bank, an agenda vocalized by him during his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu. However, as much as he opposes the legitimacy of the Palestinian state, he would have to dim his narrative to avoid a fissure in the already fragile coalition. Similarly, while the first independent Arab group is likely to assume decision-making in the government for the first time, the mere idea of infuriating Mr. Bennett strikes off any hope of representation and voice of the Arabs in Israel.

Now Mr. Netanyahu faces a choice to defer the imminent vote of confidence in Knesset whilst actively persuading the rightest politicians to abandon the coalition camp. His drive has already picked momentum as he recently deemed the election as the ‘Biggest Fraud in the History of Israeli Politics’. Furthermore, he warned the conservatives of a forthcoming leftist regime, taking a hit on Naftali colluding with a wide array of leftist ideologies. The coalition is indeed fragile, yet survival of coalition would put an end to Netanyahu and his legacy while putting Naftali and then Lapid in the office. However, the irony of the situation is quite obvious – a move from one rightest to the other. A move from one unstable government to a lasting political instability in Israel.

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