The government has launched a new judicial reform package. As usual, this package includes a combination of regulations that will appeal to proponents of democracy and freedom, and that, at the same time, will astound them once they read it. This critical regulation is regarding the concept of "reasonable doubt," which has rocked popular TV debates. According to the new regulation, if a police officer has "reasonable doubt," he can conduct searches by his own volition and detain suspects for 48 hours. I must say that this is the same practice as seen in almost all EU countries. There are those who prolong the detention period, but a 48-hour period is accepted as a general norm. Then, why does such a subject become a topic of ardent debates?
There are two reasons. The first is the track record and corporate culture of the Turkish police department. We have a police mechanism that is inclined to use power rather irresponsibly once it seizes it. As we know that a police officer himself plays a provocative role in a number of cases, it is possible to argue that this step may jeopardize security rather than bolstering it. The second is that another reform step, which was taken only in February 2014, highlighted the concept of "evidence-based suspicion," seeking to narrow the police's radius of action. So, it is not surprising that the public, who strongly supported this step at the time, is now frustrated by this retreat.
Here, the question is why such a move was made in February 2014 and why things have turned the other way around today. I cannot skip a simple detail - until February 2014, regulations in Turkey allowed a practice was based on "reasonable suspicion," just like in EU countries. So there is nothing that can be taken as "democratic decadence," as we have turned back to the old procedure after an eight-month recovery period. If we are to revisit the question, the reason why the government launched this regulation in February 2014 was quite obvious - Gülen Movement-affiliated police officers generated pressure on the domestic and foreign activities of the government by exploiting "reasonable suspicion" and this was turned into blackmail in the political arena. So, with that time's regulation, Turkey essentially grew away from EU practices and headed toward a much more legal solution.
However, there are different ways of abusing any regulation. When the "evidence-based" suspicion is taken into consideration, it is seen that public order is being threatened from another direction. Two weeks ago, when the Kurdish political movement instigated demonstrations, an assassination attempt was organized that resulted in the deaths of two policemen. Prior to this event, security forces received a notice that there were preparations to this end. Despite the presence of reasonable suspicion, the car that carried out the assassination could not be stopped and the assassination could not be prevented as permission from a prosecutor was required.
Now, with this arrangement, the government again returns to EU practices to ensure public order. While taking this step the government is acting with the assurance that it has gained by undermining the Gülen Movement's activities in the police. However, at the same time, it does not ignore the assessments by public, who have democratic sensitivity. One of the critical legs of the reform package is the establishment of a control unit on the police and to punish the officers who abuse their powers, as the essence of the matter is regarding effective supervision. Regardless of what it is called, either reasonable or evidence-based, in a system where supervision does not work, it is not possible to provide security without sacrificing freedoms. The government seems to have pinpointed this, but its credibility depends on practice.