Night-time neighbourhood watchmen were filmed patrolling in Istanbul on Tuesday evening, armed with a gun and stopping and searching people, after the Turkish parliament passed a bill on June 11 increasing their powers in the community. The bill drew criticism from the opposition and human rights' activist.
The watchmen, known as 'bekci' in Turkish, have been patrolling city streets armed with batons and whistles for decades until 2008, when the organisation was abolished by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Shortly following the failed coup in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at the return of the watchmen, which eventually took place in 2017. Tens of thousands of employees were hired in the process. In early June 2019, Turkey's parliament passed the controversial law arming night watchmen.
On Tuesday, the armed 'bekci' were filmed handing out masks to people on the streets who were without one. In addition, they were also filmed stopping and checking the ID of passers-by.
One resident, Kemal Yildirim, said that «the power given to the guards are a bit exaggerated, all in all, our country also has police. I think it's wrong for the guards to search a person and carry a gun. Just a truncheon and an ID check would be enough, I guess. Body search, carrying guns is wrong because they don't have the training they need. I don't think this is good.»
Another resident, Ali Haktanir, was in favour of the bill, saying: «[police] have more authority, but in some neighbourhoods, the attitudes, the image of people in the subculture can disturb. I think it's a good thing that there is a on-the-spot intervention in these situations.»