Turkey’s top court rules in favour of arrests over anonymous witness statements

Anonymous witness statements alone are enough to be considered strong indication in favour of arrest, Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM) said in a ruling last week.

The statements would need to be verifiable and specific, the court said.

“In cases where the suspect or defendant is allowed sufficient opportunity to inspect the anonymous witness statement, it can be considered strong indication for arrest,” the AYM said, provided that the statement included “information on location, time, perpetrator and action”.

Anonymous statements could still be considered strong indicators with no other corroborating evidence, if they include concrete elements, and even pose a basis for conviction, the AYM said.

The ruling is related to the case of Rıza Barut, a city council member in a district municipality in the southeastern Diyarbakır province, home to Turkey’s largest Kurdish population.

Barut was arrested in 2020 over terrorism charges, and held behind bars for one month.

While ruling that anonymous statements were enough for both arrest and conviction, the AYM found Barut’s arrest had violated his rights as the anonymous testimony against him had not included such information that could be verified.

Lawyer Celal Ülgen told Deutsche Welle Turkish that anonymous statements should not impact convictions.

“Complimentary evidence should be sought to verify and make the statement concrete. Without that, based on just anonymous witnesses, trumped up and conspiratorial cases would function as a guillotine especially during periods when the judiciary is not independent, when it answers to a power/oligarchy,” Ülgen said.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had ruled against anonymous witness statements, saying they could not comprise sufficient evidence for conviction, in the case of Hasan Bakır v Turkey.

Bakır, district chairman for the since-shuttered pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) in Diyarbakır, had been sentenced to three years in prison based on anonymous statements.

Article 90 of Turkey’s constitution states that “international agreements duly put into effect bear the force of law”, and that in case of conflict, provisions of international agreements take precedence.

Anonymous witness statements play a key role in the case known as the Kobane Trials, where more than 100 top officials from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) face charges ranging from incitement to violence to terrorism over street protests that took place in October 2014.

A witness with the alias ABC123 testified in a special hearing of the Kobane Trials on Feb. 9, without the suspects present. ABC123 told the court that they had seen former HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ, Sebahat Tuncel and Ertuğrul Kürkçü in Qandil, the region in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has its main headquarters and bases. The witness also testified against several HDP deputies and other officials.

The HDP is facing closure over alleged ties to the PKK, an armed group designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The AYM will decide whether the HDP has become a “focus of terrorist activity”, in which case the party will be shut down and 451 of its top officials banned from holding office.

Anonymous witnesses were also key in the infamous Ergenekon Trials, where an alleged network of secularist military officers faced trial for attempting to overthrow the government. After 12 years in court houses, all Ergenekon suspects were acquitted.

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