Turkey’s parliament has passed a bill enhancing the powers of “night watchmen,” also known as neighborhood guards who will now have powers to stop and search people, carry guns and use force whenever necessary.
The bill passed overnight at the General Assembly with backing from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (CHP). Opposition parties have been objecting to the bill, arguing that the legislation empowers an under-qualified force.
Debate over the bill also triggered heated exchange in parliament as lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the MHP ended up engaging in fisticuffs.
MPs scuffle in Turkish Parliament during voting of law on ‘night watchmen’MPs scuffle in Turkish Parliament during voting of law on ‘night watchmen’
With the new law, the night watchmen, who walk the streets at night to report burglaries and disturbances, have been given powers almost the same ones the Turkish police forces have.
They will now be allowed to carry firearms and have powers to stop and search people.
The bill allows the more than 21,000 neighborhood guards, including women, to use firearms, to stop vehicles, carry out ID checks and conduct body searches. The guards cannot arrest or interrogate suspects.
Nevertheless, the night watchmen will be told they must have a reasonable and fair reason to stop people and check IDs. Arbitrary and high-handed stopping will not be allowed.
The guards will also help people who have been injured, fallen ill or in need of help, including women trying to escape violence or potentially at risk of being subjected to abuse. In the event of such an incident, the guards will take them to the closest police unit.
The night watchmen also have the duty to inform people on high-risk natural disasters, such as fires and floods, and will help people within their powers.
The nigh watchmen institution, under the Interior Ministry, dates back more than 100 years.