A state of emergency, according to Turkey’s 1983 Constitution, can be declared “In the case of natural disasters, dangerous epidemics, heavy economic depression” but also if “significant signs of violent threats to the constitutional democratic order or the serious disturbance of public order due to violence” emerge. An OHAL can be declared for no longer than 6 months; but can be extended in 4-month terms by decision of the National Assembly.
Turkey’s last OHAL was declared in a region encompassing eleven municipalities in Turkey’s Southeast during intense fighting between the Turkish army and PKK, and extraordinarily remained in place from 1987 until 2002. The regulations were most intense during 1987-1994; and were gradually eased afterwards.
The period is remembered as one that harbored particular violence and unaccountability in the region, making the acronym “OHAL” a household word often remembered bitterly. President Erdogan has often boasted that it was his administration that ended OHAL in the region in 2002, although by the time he became Prime Minister only two municipalities were still under emergency rule.
What is an OHAL?
The emergency measures that are part of an OHAL grant extensive powers to the President and the Cabinet. As long as an OHAL is in place, the Cabinet is authorized to pass executive orders in its meetings. Approved by the President (who would be heading Cabinet meetings), the executive orders would be offered up to the National Assembly the same day for approval. This grants effective lawmaking power to the Cabinet (and, to put it more openly, to President Erdogan) in a reversal of the normal operations of the Turkish parliamentary system—where laws are suggested, amended and passed by the National Assembly, and sent to the President for final approval.
Powers granted to the President, Cabinet, and government-appointed governors by OHAL go quite far. As long as the “extraordinary state” persists, President Erdogan will lead Cabinet meetings, and the body will be allowed to take the following extraordinary (and, outside of an OHAL, unconstitutional) measures if/as deemed necessary:
-to issue curfews, or ban citizens from leaving their houses entirely,
-to forbid citizens or vehicles from travelling to or gathering in specific places, at specific times
-to conduct personal searches, search vehicles, belongings and confiscate items that can be used in crime or those that constitute criminal evidence
-to make it mandatory that citizens carry documents of identification
-to ban (or to require official permissions for) the printing, multiplication, publishing and distribution of newspapers, magazines, brochures, books, pamphlets, posters etc., to ban (or to require official permissions for) the entry of such items published outside of the OHAL zone into the OHAL zone; or to confiscate such items that may be forbidden,
-to regulate all publications made through recordings of spoken word, writing, film, sound, visuals etc., and to record or ban these as necessary,
-to take special security measures for sensitive public or private enterprises or banks in order to enhance their internal security, or to ask that such security measures be increased
-to regulate all forms of stage and cinematic productions, to stop or ban these if necessary,
-to ban individuals who create the impression that they may disturb public order or trust from entering the OHAL zone, to take them outside of the OHAL zone, or to forbid them from entering or settling in certain areas in the OHAL zone,
-to regulate, record, or ban entry into buildings or enterprises the security of which must be preserved,
-to ban the carrying of all weapons or ammunitions, even those that are licensed
-to ban or require special permission for the possession, production, preparation, or transportation of all ammunition, explosives, radioactive materials corrosive or otherwise harmful pharmaceuticals, all poisons or such items; and to confiscate these as necessary.
-to ban, delay, or require official permission for rallies or marches to be held in open or closed venues or to dictate the time and place for all such activities, to have all such activity observed, and dispersed if deemed necessary,
-to delay (or to require official permissions for) the firing of employees,
-to halt the activities of non-profit companies, with the condition of making a separate ruling for each such association that will not exceed three months.
President Erdogan stated, as he announced the state of emergency on Wednesday night, that “This is absolutely not a move against democracy, the rule of law, and freedoms. To the contrary, it is a move aimed to protect, heighten, and develop these values.”