In line with the third judicial reform package, which was adopted in Parliament late on Monday, prosecutors are obliged to obtain permission from relevant authorities 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.
According to the new reform package, prosecutors will have to obtain permission from senior military officers at the General Staff to investigate military staff as part of the espionage gang probe. Prosecutors will not be able to investigate suspected military staff if suspects' superiors do not allow them to do so.
Currently, 68 people, including retired and active duty military officers, are under arrest on accusations of membership in the espionage gang. They all stand accused of prostitution, human smuggling, blackmail, illegally obtaining military information and establishing and running a criminal organization. The gang reportedly hired foreign prostitutes for military officers and secretly recorded intimate relations between the officers and the women. The gang later blackmailed these officers to obtain military information from them and sold that information to third parties.
Prior to the third judicial reform package, prosecutors were free to investigate any state officer, no matter the crime. However, they will have to ask for permission from military superiors to investigate members of the military as part of the espionage gang probe.
In addition, the new reform package penalizes reporting on covert voice recordings posted online 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-related issues. The recordings are posted on video-sharing websites, and journalists make reports on their content.
According to the new reform package, persons who violate the privacy of communication will be sentenced to jail terms of between one to three years, persons who secretly record a conversation without the permission of participating parties will be penalized with a prison terms of six months to two years, and persons who wiretap and report a conversation without the permission of participating parties will be sentenced to between two years and five years in jail.
Turkey's journalists are worried that they will not be able to perform their profession freely under the new package.
The package also curtailed the powers of Turkey's courts. Specially authorized courts dealing with coup and terror cases have been abolished and replaced with regional terrorism courts. However, special courts will continue to oversee existing coup and terror cases until a final verdict is reached, but judges dealing with 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 terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and other related organizations. A number of ongoing probes against coup plotters and terror suspects will be taken from special courts and forwarded to new regional high criminal courts.
Under the new package, suspects will not be detained for more than 48 hours following their capture. Courts will be allowed to rule to hear a case in another province, citing security reasons. Judges will no longer have the authority to rule for the arrest of a suspect unless strong evidence exists. In addition, the right to rule on a jail sentence will no longer belong to the judge hearing that case. Another judge -- dubbed the “judge of freedoms” -- to be assigned by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) will decide this instead. Suspects will also have the right to appeal against the decision. The government believes the change will strengthen individual rights and freedoms.
Suspects who commit crimes on behalf of an organized criminal group without becoming a member of that group -- such as aiding and abetting members of the group -- will no longer be punished for membership in an organized criminal group. Instead, they will be punished for aiding a criminal group. This means the lowering of punishments imposed on such suspects.
Prosecutors involved in an investigation were previously allowed to travel to other provinces to inspect crime scenes, to interrogate suspects or to supervise police officers when taking suspects into custody. With the new changes, however, they will not be allowed to do so any longer. They will have to send written requests to prosecutors' offices in relevant provinces asking the offices to assign prosecutors to inspect crime scenes, interrogate suspects or supervise police officers during detention procedures.
Legal experts believe such a change will make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain evidence of crimes.
The new judicial package also envisages the completion of dealing with the accumulated case files in the Council of State within three years at the latest.
Report: CHP to appeal against abolition of special courts
The Milliyet daily reported on Tuesday that the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) is planning to appeal to the Constitutional Court in the next few days an article of the third judicial reform package with which Turkey's specially authorized courts have been abolished.
According to the daily, the CHP believes that the article runs contrary to the principle of “equality before the law.” CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Emine Ülker Tarhan reportedly told the daily that her party thinks that the article brings “dual standards” to the Turkish judiciary and that the CHP finds the trial of suspects under differing principles to be unfair.
“For example, the case against the Sept. 12, 1980 coup will be dealt with by a specially authorized court. But the Feb. 28 [1997 coup case] will be tried by a [regional] terrorism court,” Tarhan reportedly said.
The article inserted in the third judicial reform package against the special courts abolished these courts and also removed the special powers of specially authorized prosecutors. With the change, some existing investigations being carried out by specially authorized prosecutors will be taken from these prosecutors and forwarded to ordinary prosecutors. These investigations include the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, the air strike that killed 34 civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border near Uludere last December and a helicopter crash that killed former Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu and five others in 2009.