Turkey’s latest counter-terrorism law has raised concerns after it became clear that it also introduces restrictions on civil society and philanthropic space.
The Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction entered into force on 31 December 2020. The main reasoning behind the law – outlined in the rationale of the draft version – is “to catch up with international standards in the fight against the financing of terrorism and laundering offences in light of the 2019 report of the FATF and the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions”.
However, 11 of the 43 articles amend two important civil society laws, while four articles amend the law on collection of aid, and seven amend the association law in Turkey.
Philanthropy Advocacy, a joint Dafne & EFC Initiative, has stated that some of these legal changes contribute to an unfriendly climate for civil society, by unduly restricting the operating space for civil society organisations and opening the door for arbitrary and discretionary decisions by public authorities.
Under the changes, online aid campaigns now require prior permission while a notification is required for aid sent or received from abroad. Public servants must also carry out annual audits on civil society organisations annually, or at least no later than every three years.
Harsher penalties have also been introduced for failing to abide by many of the new rules. For instance, unauthorised online aid campaign may be removed or blocked, and fines issued for violating the aid collection law. Organisations may be charged fines of up to €11,000 for failing to make a notification about aid sent or received from abroad, and failing to transfer aid through a bank.
In addition, should an organisation fail to give or show information, documents and records or allow visits as part of internal or external audits, the potential prison term has been increased from three months to one year or a judicial fine.
And, if mandatory books and documents that are kept by the associations are unreadable or lost for any reason, this must be reported to the local court. If an organisation does not notify the court within 15 days or submit the books during the audit process, they face a prison sentence of three months to one year or a judicial fine.
In an article on the changes on the Philanthropy Advocacy site, Hanna Surmatz, enabling environment manager at the EFC says:
“The new rules will have a chilling impact on cross-border philanthropy. Civil Society Organisations in Turkey have already been subject to a restrictive Law on Aid Collection, which requires prior permission and fulfilling numerous conditions for fundraising activities. The new Law brings additional restriction. Given the current COVID-19 crisis globally and other societal challenges, there is need for legal frameworks which encourage and facilitate philanthropic activities in line with the international standards, but currently the opposite is happening.”