The Arrested Lawyers Initiative published the update of its report named ‘Mass Prosecution of Lawyers in Turkey‘ of which previous version was published together with the Italian National Bar Council (Il Consiglio Nazionale Forense) in English and Italian on the occasion of Lawyers’ Day in Turkey (5th April).
According to the latest version of the report, since 2016’s coup attempt more than 1500 lawyers have been prosecuted and 605 lawyers arrested (remanded to pretrial detention). So far, 441 lawyers have been sentenced to a total of 2728 years in prison on the grounds of membership of an armed terrorism organization or of spreading terrorist propaganda.
Report also shows, 14 of the persecuted lawyers are presidents (or former presidents) of their respective provincial bar associations, for example; President of the Konya Bar Association, Fevzi Kayacan, President of the Trabzon Bar Association, Orhan Öngöz, President of the Siirt Bar Association, Cemal Acar, President of the Gumushane Bar Association, Ismail Tastan were arrested and unlawfully unseated. Furthermore, the presidents of the Aksaray and Kahramanmaras Bar Associations, Levent Bozkurt and Vahit Bagci, respectively, and the former presidents of the Yozgat Bar Association, Haci Ibis and Fahri Acikgoz, were detained for a certain time before they were released on bail.
Report presents that all of the persecuted lawyers are being charged with terror-linked offenses; the two main accusations imputed to them are membership of an armed terrorist organisation, and forming and leading an armed terrorist organisation.
Lawyers have particularly been targeted due to the identity or affinity of their clients. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that the OHCHR has observed a pattern concerning the persecution of lawyers representing individuals who areaccused of terrorism offences, where they are associated with their clients’ political views (oralleged 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 accused.
THE INDEPENDENCE OF BAR ASSOCIATIONS HAS BEEN DIMINISHED
Under Article 135 of the Constitution, Bar Associations are independent professional bodies having the characteristics of public institutions. However, by Presidential Decree No:5 (Presidential Decree as to the State Inspection Institution / Devlet Denetleme Kurumu – DDK), the Turkish Presidency acquired the authority to inspect Bar Associations, and to suspend their Chairperson and board members (Article 6). The Turkish Presidency’s power to suspend a Bar Association’s elected executives has significantly impaired their independence.
Moreover, with Law no. 7249 dated 11 July, 2020, the independence of bar associations in Turkey has further been diminished. The Law has dramatically reduced the influence of the Bar Associations of big cities within the union, whose next election is due to take place in December, 2020.21 The purpose of the Law is to disempower the Bar Associations of big cities which are critical of the Government and have been playing an increasingly important role in documenting human rights abuses.
Law no. 7249, dated 11 July, 2020, is clearly in breach of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation No. R (2000) 21, which require, respectively, that:
a) A bar association must be able to exercise its functions without external interference from government or other actors,
b) bar associations, or other professional lawyers’ associations, should be self-governing bodies, independent of the authorities and the public.
UNLAWFUL RESTRICTIONS ON ADMISSION TO THE PROFESSION OF LAWYER
Pursuant to the Law No.1136 (the Code of Lawyers) internship as a lawyer, or who serves as a judge or prosecutor for at-least five years, is, everyone who successfully fulfills the admitted to the profession of lawyer. Since July 2016, the Turkish Justice Ministry has been preventing dismissed public servants from being a lawyer. The Justice Ministry argues that the dismissed public servants cannot be lawyers and cannot be admitted to an internship as a lawyer, under the Article of the Decree Laws, as follows “those dismissed from service under paragraph one shall no longer be employed in public service.” Having misinterpreted this provision, The Justice Ministry refuses to issue lawyers’ licenses to school academics, judges and prosecutors who were dismissed under the Emergency Regime.
According to the Coordination Group Against License Denial, since 2015 those who are considered to be ‘unfavorable citizens’, in the Regime’s eyes, have been denied a lawyer’s license by the Turkish Ministry of Justice, although they fulfill all legal requirements.24 Total of 891 intern lawyers have been denied lawyers’ licenses by the Turkish Ministry of Justice since 2015.
THE FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION OF LAWYERS HAS BEEN DIMINISHED
The Turkish Government’s crackdown on lawyers has targeted not only their rights to liberty and security, but also their freedom of association. 34 (of the 1412) associations (NGOs) operating in 20 different provinces of Turkey that were founded by lawyers were permanently dissolved under Emergency Decrees, all the assets of these NGOs were confiscated, without any compensation. What is worse, almost all of the members of these lawyers’ associations’ have been prosecuted under Anti-Terrorism Laws.
Report’s previous versions were published in Spanish and Italian with support of Italian National Bar Association and the International Observatory for Lawyers which the Arrested Lawyers Initiative is a member.