Turkish bar associations are revolting against Government’s unlawful pressure on the judiciary and the legal profession as a whole. Over 50 bar associations representing 95% of all Turkish lawyers are slating the Court of Cassation over its decision to hold the ceremony in Erdogan’s palace. 51 provincial bar associations, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Van and Diyarbakir, have so far announced that they will decline an invitation to attend the 2019 Judicial Year Opening Ceremony which will take place on 2 September 2019. Only three associations have accepted participating the ceremony, according to the Turkish media.
On 16 August, the Istanbul Bar Association said it could not accept a choice of venue that conflicted both with article 104 of the Constitution which stipulates the President’s duties in relation to the judiciary, but also with ethical standards outlined in a legal reform package unveiled in May. President of Istanbul Bar Association, Mr. Durakoglu said, in his letter addressed to the Court of Cassation, that it would be impossible for them to attend the ceremony at the presidential palace because this would mean a rejection of all the values they espouse, including those of democracy, law and justice.
The Ankara Bar Association on Saturday said in a written statement that attending an event for the new judicial year at the presidential venue would mean reproducing the political pressure over the judiciary. The association said the existing circumstances in Turkey had been surpassing both the rule of law and the separation of powers.
In his letter, lawyer Özkan Yücel, president of İzmir Bar Association said, “We are informing you that we had to decline your invitation as a representative of an honorable profession of which hundreds of members have been held as a captive with political decisions. We recommend that you emancipate yourself so that you do not become part of a judicial system that the public has not the slightest confidence.’
In his letter, lawyer Zulkuf Ucar, president of Van Bar Association underlined that Turkey ranks 109th among 126 countries in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index, holding this event in the Presidential Palace will further undermine public trust towards judiciary.
Despite bar associations representing 90% of all Turkish lawyers refused to attend the ceremony and called for boycott, the Union of Turkish Bar Association, said on Saturday that its president Metin Feyzioğlu would attend a ceremony marking the beginning of the judicial year. (See also about Mr. Feyzioglu: Erdogan Regime grasps control of the recruitment mechanism for the profession of law with the cooperation of Metin Feyzioglu)
While Turkish lawyers boycott the ceremony, Turkish judges and prosecutors are obliged to attend the ceremony. Secretary-General of the Court of Cassation issued an instruction dated 11 July 2019 saying members of the Court of Cassation, reporter judges and prosecutors and clerks are obliged to attend the Ceremony.
Some of the provincial bar associations which announced its decision not to attend the ceremony are as follows: Adana, Adıyaman, Aksaray, Amasya, Ankara, Antalya, Artvin, Aydın, Balıkesir, Bilecik, Bingöl, Bitlis, Bolu, Bursa, Çanakkale, Denizli, Diyarbakir, Düzce, Eskişehir, Gaziantep, Hatay, Iğdır, Isparta, İstanbul, İzmir, Kırklareli, Kocaeli, Kütahya, Malatya, Manisa, Mersin, Muş, Muğla, Ordu, Sinop, Şanlıurfa, Tekirdağ, Tunceli, Trabzon, Van, Yalova, Zonguldak.
SITUATION IN TURKEY
Since the 2016’s coup attempt, there has been a relentless campaign of arrests which has targeted fellow lawyers across the country. In 77 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, lawyers have been detained, prosecuted and convicted due to with terror-linked offenses imputed them. As of today, more than 1500 lawyershave been prosecuted and 599 lawyers have been arrested. So far, 311 lawyers have been sentenced to some 1967 years in prison on grounds of membership to an armed terrorism organization or spreading terrorism propaganda.
14 of the persecuted lawyers are presidents (or former presidents) of their respective provincial bar associations, namely, President of Konya Bar Association Fevzi Kayacan, President of Trabzon Bar Association Orhan Ongoz, President of Siirt Bar Association Cemal Acar, were arrested and unlawfully unseated. Furthermore, presidents of the Aksaray and Kahramanmaras Bar Associations, Levent Bozkurt and Vahit Bagci respectively, and former presidents of Yozgat Bar Association Haci Ibis and Fahri Acikgoz were detained for a certain period of time before they were released on bail.
Lawyers have particularly been targeted due to identity or affinity of their clients. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that the OHCHR has observed a pattern concerning persecution of lawyers representing individuals accused of terrorism offences, where they are associated with their clients’ political views (or alleged political views) in the discharge of their professional duties and are consequently prosecuted for the same or other related offences of which their clients are being.
INDEPENDENCE OF BAR ASSOCIATION HAVE BEEN DIMINISHED: Under Article 135 of the Constitution, Bar Associations are independent professional bodies having the characteristics of public institutions. However, by the Presidential Decree No:5 of which name is Presidential Decree as to the State Inspection Institution (Devlet Denetleme Kurumu – DDK) Turkish Presidency acquired the authority of inspecting Bar Associations, and of suspending their chairperson and board members (article 6). The Turkish Presidency’s power to suspend Bar Association’s elected executives significantly impaired their independence.
UNLAWFUL RESTRICTIONS ON ADMISSION TO THE PROFESSION OF LAWYER: Pursuant to the Law No.1136 (the Code of Lawyers), everyone who successfully fulfils the internship of the lawyer or serves as a judge or prosecutor for at-least five years, is admitted the profession of lawyer. Since 2016 July, Turkish Justice Ministry have been preventing the dismissed public servants from being a lawyer. The Justice Ministry argues that the dismissed public servants can’t be lawyer and can’t be admitted for the internship of lawyer under the article of decree laws as follows “those dismissed from service under paragraph one shall not anymore be employed in public service, and they shall not, directly or indirectly, be assigned; all kinds of membership in a board of trustees, a board, a commission, a board of management, a supervisory board or a liquidation board under the responsibility of those dismissed from service and their other tasks shall be deemed to have ended.” Having misinterpreted this provision, The Justice Ministry refuses to issue lawyer license to school academics, judges and prosecutors who were dismissed under Emergency Regime.
THE FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION OF LAWYERS HAVE BEEN DIMINISHED:Turkish Government’s crackdown against lawyers targeted not only their right to liberty and security but also their freedom of association. 34 (of the 1412) associations (NGOs) operating in 20 different provinces of Turkey founded by lawyers were permanently dissolved under Emergency Decrees, all assets of these NGOs were confiscated without any compensation. What is worse, almost all members of these lawyer associations’ have been prosecuted under Anti-Terrorism Laws.