The collapse of judicial independence and the breakdown of the rule of law have taken many forms in Turkey over the course of the past several years. The political subjugation of the judiciary and the post-coup crackdown on the members of the legal system have inexorably sealed the fate of Turkey’s legal landscape. But nothing better embodies this descent into the legal abyss than the shattered lives of lawyer, judges and prosecutors.
On a scale unprecedented and unmatched, Turkey’s political authorities unleashed a sweeping purge and clampdown against the members of the judiciary, sending thousands of judges, prosecutors and lawyers to jail without showing any respect for the central pillars of due process.
Turan Canpolat, a member of the Malatya Bar Association in eastern Turkey, is only one of those lawyers who is forced to endure a punishing ordeal. But his story starts even before the all-encompassing post-coup crackdown generated by the abortive putsch in summer 2016. The veteran lawyer, 51, had been a defense attorney for 21 years when he was placed behind bars on January 27, 2016, in flagrant violation of law and breach of fundamental rights.
What landed him pre-trial detention that year started with a police search at the house of one of his clients. When his client called the lawyer for legal advice amid the presence of police who conducted a search at his house, Canpolat, without wasting any time, immediately went to the place to confront the police. Canpolat recorded the violations he observed during the search on an official search and seizure document which was jointly signed by a police officer and himself. In a display of courtesy, the police pledged to inform the lawyer in advance about the next phase of the probe, the date of police interrogation and investigation involving his client. While returning home, the lawyer received a phone call from the police inviting him to the station. Without harboring any second-thoughts and doubts over the motives of the call, Canpolat duly heeded the call and directly went to the station. He surmised that the invitation would be about his client.
After a two-hour wait at the reception, Canpolat was told that he, too, had been under arrest. The reason presented for his arrest was a statement of a guy (M.T.), who came to his office a while ago and assigned Mr. Canpolat as his lawyer with a complaint that the police was intimidating him to be an informant and to give incriminating statements for targeted people under investigation.
Mr. Canpolat says that M.T. is his client and his conversations with M.T. cannot be divulged to the public due to the lawyer-client confidentiality. In order to prevent the invocation of the lawyer-client privilege, the police, unbeknownst to him, took his client to a nearby notary’s office to have Canpolat dismissed as (his) lawyer. What added a further layer of norm defiance was the fact that the police appeared to have paid the notary’s fees for the procedure of dismissal. (captured by notary’s security cameras).
After working around the lawyer-client privilege, there were still difficulties to frame Mr. Canpolat unlawfully and unfairly. As part of national procedure involving legal proceedings, arrests and court hearings, the names and the total number of persons facing arrest warrants need to be processed and recorded in the UYAP (National Intranet of the Judiciary) System. This is also the case for search and arrest warrants. Controversy and scandal emerge regarding Mr. Canpolat when one of the suspects named M.C. in the initial (official) warrant is removed and Adv Canpolat is instead included in the warrant as a suspect.
Stunned by such a flagrant forgery, even the police officers shied away from signing the doctored document but the public prosecutor in charge of the investigation signed it in full knowledge. Although Adv Canpolat brought up this issue during his trial, the court chose not to do anything about it.
Mr. Canpolat was remanded in pretrial detention on Jan. 30, 2016, by Malatya Magistrate Court. However, M.T.’s statement was not incriminating and not sufficient enough to warrant an indictment. The prosecutor obtained a new statement from M.T. 12 days after Mr. Canpolat’s detention. In this new statement dated February 12, 2016, M.T. told the authorities that Mr. Canpolat had been the “imam” (mentor) of 3 clerks who worked at the Malatya Courthouse. Although Mr. Canpolat and the 3 clerks were accused of forming a terror cell, three clerks were tried in a separate case despite all requests by Mr. Canpolat for merging of the case to be tried together with other defendants (his alleged accomplices). Eventually, all three clerks were acquitted of all charges, something that removed any rationale and legal ground for Mr. Canpolat’s continuous detention.
Then, despite being in prison during the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, he was charged with taking part in the putsch, an accusation later dropped by the prosecution.
During the trial, at a hearing in Malatya High Criminal Court, M.T. disowned his incriminating statement against Mr. Canpolat and said neither of those in the statement was his own words, and added the police wrote and made him sign against his will.
However, the exculpatory evidence that emerged consequently after that did not secure Mr. Canpolat’s acquittal. He was convicted of ‘guilt-by-association’ charges for representing some of the companies shut down by emergency decrees. Another reason was put for his conviction was downloading and using ByLock Messenger (an encrypted communication app which was legally available for download in app stores of Google and Apple), although neither of these grounds was referred to in the indictment. He was sentenced to 10 years under Turkey’s anti-terror provision.
Adv Canpolat has been in prison for 50 months and has periodically been placed in solitary confinement in the notorious Elazig Prisonhouse. His appeal is still to be considered by the Court of Cassation for the past 14 months. During this time, he has made 14 separate applications, demanding his release. His pleas and attempts went unanswered. On the other hand, his brother, also a lawyer, was convicted of similar offenses and given a sentence of 9 years imprisonment.
As Elie Weisel said “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
Let’s be the voice of the voiceless and particularly the voice of Mr Canpolat.