Police neighborhood tip boxes threat to individual rights, freedoms
Two Turkish police officers are seen at a crime scene. Turkey's National Police Department plans to install boxes on streets to enable citizens to “file complaints” against neighbors they suspect of being involved in unlawful activity. (Photo: AP, İbrahim Usta)
Human rights activists say a recent plan of the National Police Department to install boxes on streets to enable citizens to “file complaints” against neighbors they suspect of being involved in unlawful activity is unacceptable and a serious threat to democracy and individual rights and freedoms.
The police department announced that the project aims to facilitate the process by which people give the police tips and reduce the time it takes for police to catch suspects. As part of the project, tip boxes will be installed in various neighborhoods.
According to the police, most people do not want to report an incident because they are concerned they will face some problems with the police or may be harmed by the perpetrator. The department underlined that the identities of those who use the boxes will remain unknown. But human rights groups and lawyers say there are currently no laws that obligate a tipster to leave their own I.D. details when reporting a crime. The consequences of what activists call a “snitch citizen” project could be seriously damaging for Turkey's democracy.
The Human Rights Association (İHD) has vowed to do everything within its power to legally stop the boxes from becoming a reality once the implementation phase begins. “This is a very wrong practice; this is a way to create a new mechanism of pressure on citizens in Turkey. This will stop an individual from seeking their rights for fear that they might be misunderstood and reported to authorities,” said Öztürk Türkdoğan, head of the İHD. He said this is something that can only happen in a police state.
Türkdoğan said the police department's announcement was very clearly related to the recent wave of anti-government protests that started as a small sit-in against the demolition of Gezi Park. “As it is, there are many problems in terms of the right to a fair trial, the abuse of phone tapping and surveillance, and the use of secret witnesses and confidential informants in trials. Everything is very arbitrary,” he said.
He noted that although five people died during the Gezi protests, not a single police officer was punished. The İHD president said the government should be giving citizens more freedoms and democracy instead of installing new mechanisms of oppression, and it should start with stopping the police from killing protestors with indemnity.
Deputy President of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) Arif Koçer said: “This is against a society where human rights are fundamental. There are intelligence units of the state and there are the police, it is their job to capture criminals. Encouraging people to tell on each other is the first step to a police state. We will use all the necessary legal means for the cancelation [of this plan].” Koçer said neighborhood tip boxes are potentially an extremely polarizing idea with a great likelihood of damaging social peace. “The installation of the boxes will lead to a myriad of new violations. This is very wrong; the state should trust its citizens, not looking at them with suspicion and treating them as potential criminals,” he said.
Ergin Cinmen, a lawyer known for his activism in improving democracy in Turkey, said: “It is impossible not to worry here. There is currently no need for leaving one's identification details or name when filing out a complaint.” He said such practices didn't occur even during the Sept. 12, 1980 period. “There was the understanding of ‘snitch citizen' during the March 12,  intervention.” He said he suspected the police department came up with the tip box idea after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week called on his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters to file complaints against their neighbors who banged pots and pans in protest of the government , a common sound during the Gezi protests.
“I really hope this idea will be abandoned. There will be chaos. A tipster could accuse a neighbor of very serious crimes just because they were angry at him or her. This is unacceptable. We really hope they will abandon this plan,” Cinmen said.
Many say the planned tip box is reminiscent of the era of Abdul Hamid II, during whose reign a spy network containing as many as 50,000 informants was created.