President approves controversial third judicial reform package

July 05, 2012, Thursday/ 17:01:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

President Abdullah Gül approved a controversial third judicial reform package on Wednesday, sending the law to the Prime Ministry for publication in the Official Gazette.

The third judicial reform package was published in the Official Gazette on Thursday. The package was adopted in Parliament late on Monday and obliges prosecutors to obtain permission from relevant authorities in order to investigate officers in a number of top state institutions, including the General Staff, the National Security Council (MGK), the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the police force. Prior to the third judicial reform package, prosecutors were free to investigate any state official, no matter the crime.

In addition, the new reform package penalizes reporting on secretly recorded conversations with up to five years in prison. In Turkey, it is common to hear recordings featuring the voices of senior military officers or bureaucrats expressing their views about political and military issues. The recordings are often posted on video-sharing websites and newspapers often publish stories on their content.

According to the new reform package, persons who violate the privacy of personal communications will be sentenced to jail terms of between one to three years, persons who secretly record a conversation without the permission of the participating parties will be penalized with a prison term ranging from six months to two years and persons who wiretap and report a conversation without the permission of the participating parties will be sentenced to between two and five years in prison.

Journalists have expressed concern that they will not be able to carry out their profession freely under the new package.

The package also curtails the powers of specially authorized courts dealing with coup and terrorism cases, abolishing and replacing them with regional terrorism courts. However, special courts will continue to exist only to oversee existing coup and terrorism cases until a final verdict is reached, but judges hearing these cases will not be assigned to the new regional high criminal courts.

Some of the cases currently being heard by special courts include Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network accused of plotting to overthrow the government; Balyoz (Sledgehammer), a suspected coup plot believed to have been devised in 2003 with the aim of unseating the government through violent acts; and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that includes the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and other related organizations. A number of ongoing investigations into coup plots and terrorism suspects will be moved from special courts to new regional high criminal courts.

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