“We needed the testimony of secret witnesses to fully practice justice as in all developed countries. Especially in the case of organized crime, witnesses were not able talk because of fears for their security,” Köylü said, adding that he had seen this type of problem during his years as a public prosecutor. “Witnesses should be protected from threats and pressure. The lack of this facility was a great deficiency,” he said.
Passed in 2008, the Witness Protection Law saw its first application with secret witnesses in the case against Ergenekon, a political crime gang accused of plotting to overthrow the government. But the law has been damaged significantly in practice, with many newspapers publishing the identities of some of the witnesses in the case and not suffering any legal consequences.
Criminal law Professor Hakan Hakeri has said that judges do not necessarily have to take into account the testimony of secret witnesses. “Unless the testimony of the secret witness has been verified, there may be no conviction. The testimony of the secret witness should be checked and supported to be taken into consideration,” he said, and added that European countries and the United States adopted the witness protection system long ago.
Parliament passed the relevant legislation for the law on Jan. 5, 2008, and it went into effect on July 5 of the same year as part of Turkey’s European Union harmonization efforts regarding the effective combat of terror and organized crime. Under the Witness Protection Law, those who testify as witnesses in trials for crimes that call for a sentence from 10 years to life and trials involving organized crime or crimes of terrorism can benefit from protective measures. Public prosecutors have the power to decide who is eligible for witness protection. In some cases, security forces may also have the power to decide who can testify as a “secret witness.” People under witness protection even have the right to move to another country. “We should, of course, wait for the results of the whole due process and not pass judgment beforehand. If we did not have the Witness Protection Law, there would not have been the revelations about the plans regarding Ergenekon, Balyoz [Sledgehammer] and Kafes [cage],” he said.
Video recordings showing Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ahmet Ersin meeting with a secret witness in the Ergenekon probe code-named “Munzur” were posted by some Web sites recently.
In the Ergenekon trial, nearly 20 secret witnesses have provided valuable information to the prosecution. However, the identities of some of these individuals were made public, either by Ergenekon suspects, or in some cases, the media. Secret witness number nine in the Ergenekon trial was identified as Osman Yıldırım, whose testimony caused the merging of the Ergenekon trial and the trial of suspects involved in the 2005 Council of State attack which, the prosecution now believes, was orchestrated by Ergenekon.
Ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Bekir Bozdağ said that criticism in Turkey about the Witness Protection Law is not well intentioned. “Unfortunately, there are forces that do not like justice being served in our country. Those forces try to influence the course of justice and make it worthless,” he said.
“Politicians who speak against the secret witness program are playing a role in a campaign to discredit secret witnesses.”