Turkey expands secret service powers

A Turkish man talks on the phone as he walks in front of a poster displaying a portrait of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan i Mr Erdogan's critics say the law is part of his attempts to centralise control

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A law has come into force in Turkey giving the secret services greater powers of surveillance and extending immunity for its agents.

The law also provides for prison terms of up to 10 years for journalists who publish leaked information.

It is the latest in a series of measures which critics say are designed to bolster the power of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He is accused of introducing the measures to stifle corruption scandals.

The new law extends the ability of secret service agents to conduct foreign operations, tap phone conversations and to access data held by private and public institutions.

Analysis

A decade of rule by Mr Erdogan's AK Party has witnessed the weakening of the military's intelligence gathering capabilities and a significant increase in the powers of Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), which conducts foreign as well as domestic intelligence. The MIT is headed by Hakan Fidan, a former special advisor of Mr Erdogan's.

Mr Fidan has been a key actor in conducting Turkey's peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels. But members of his MIT have also been accused of killing three female Kurdish activists in Paris.

Given the ongoing weakening of the military, the new boost to the MIT's powers means it is now effectively the country's most powerful security apparatus. And analysts say it is the only one Mr Erdogan trusts.

The opposition has criticised the law, pointing out the lack of oversight of the activities of the spy agency, whose members have been granted greater immunity from prosecution.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, has said the law has effectively turned Turkey into an "intelligence state".

Anti-government 'plots'

Mr Erdogan has accused police, prosecutors and judges of being behind leaked information implicating him in a corruption scandal.

Earlier this year, recordings surfaced online purportedly of Mr Erdogan and his son Bilal discussing how to hide large sums of money.

Another scandal broke when a video on the YouTube website emerged appearing to reveal top officials discussing how to stage an undercover attack inside Syria.

His government tried to ban YouTube and Twitter but the move was overturned in the courts, although a ban remained on a handful of YouTube videos in particular.

Mr Erdogan has purged hundreds of people from the judiciary and police since several of his allies were arrested over another corruption scandal in December.

Mr Erdogan says the recordings are fabricated and has railed against "plots" to undermine him.

Despite the various scandals, his AKP party won more than 45% of the vote at local elections in March.

He has accused US-based cleric and former ally Fethullah Gulen of being behind attempt to topple his government, which Mr Gulen denies.

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