Today, Monday 28 September 2020, the human rights group Arrested Lawyers Initiative (arrestedlawyers.org) launched the Turkey Human Rights Accountability Project in response to the continuous breaches of the rule of law and imprisonment of lawyers, activists, journalists, and academics on trumped up charges.
The Project which will be funded by Crowdfunding (https://www.gofundme.com/f/sanction-turkish-officials-for-mass-imprisonment) will first seek to utilise the United Kingdom’s new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations to challenged those involved in political prosecutions which have left those targeted by the Turkish Government in perpetual incarceration in terrible conditions and often subject to torture and event deaths in custody.
Since 2016, there has been a relentless campaign of arrests which has targeted lawyers across Turkey and has also affected all levels of Turkish society. In 77 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, lawyers, Presidents of Bar Associations, and even judges who refused to act on the Government’s direction have been detained and arrested on trumped-up charges as part of criminal investigations conducted by provincial public prosecutors (link). Those also imprisoned for long periods after politically motivated prosecutions are activists, journalists, and academics.
The individuals who have been subject to arbitrary detention include civil society leader Osman Kavala, the President and the Director of Amnesty International in Turkey Taner Kılıç and İdil Eser, lawyers Selçuk Kozagaçlı and Turan Canpolat, author and journalists Ahmet Altan, Aysenur Parıldak, and Mustafa Ünal, academics Prof. Mümtazer Türköne and Prof. Sedat Laçiner, and art director Fevzi Yazıcı amongst many others.
In heart-breaking recent news, the world learnt that imprisoned lawyer Ebru Timtik had passed away in her quest for a fair trial and the ending of her imprisonment solely for representing the downtrodden (link).
The Turkish authorities and prosecutors hold a huge amount of power to determine who is kept imprisoned and for how long. This power is largely unchecked by Turkey’s legal system which often acts at their whim. The Turkish courts routinely ignore the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the UN, particularly, those ordering the release of certain detainees.
Many of those who have been detained have been subject to torture, solitary confinement, denial of health services and access to counsel, and some have died in custody. Some judges and prosecutors have even been extorting money from those held in custody in return for their release.
The UN and Council of Europe bodies, national and international NGOs, and Bar Associations around the world have published credible reports on these human rights violations by Turkish officials. The Turkish government has offered its officials, such as the prosecutors who send innocent lawyers and others to prison for lengthy sentences in squalid condition, effective immunity. This has meant that it is impossible to bring human rights abusers to justice within Turkey or to challenge their actions.
The Accountability Project
The first step will be to push for the sanctioning of those responsible under the United Kingdom’s new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations. To this end, we intend to instruct two top English human rights barristers to act to draft submissions for sanctions against those responsible for these gross violations of basic human rights.
This work will be a springboard for similar submissions in the United States and the European Union and any funds remaining after the above work is undertaken will be put towards exploring other sanction options as well as other ways to hold those responsible to account using domestic and international legal mechanisms.
The Arrested Lawyers Initiative states the following ‘In Turkey, impunity is neither a new problem nor an aberration, rather the norm as far as human rights violations committed by public officials are concerned. We believe that this project will be instrumental to end the impunity and hold those responsible for systematic human rights violations accountable. We ask our colleagues across the World to support and contribute towards our project.’
Kevin Dent QC who has been instructed to lead barrister Michael Polak in this matter states: ‘This is an exciting project which looks to mount an application to the United Kingdom Government for prominent human rights abusers in Turkey to be placed on the UK’s Magnitsky sanctions list. The age of impunity for those who would abuse human rights is well and truly over and this campaign will utilise the recently-enacted UK Regulations in order to make a powerful application for sanctions.’
Michael Polak states ‘the wholesale targeting of lawyers, journalists, and academics in Turkey where they can be subject to unending internment at the whim of the Government with little semblance of the Rule of Law is very concerning. The arrest and detention of individuals such as Idil Eser, Amnesty’s Turkey Director, and Taner Kiliç, Amnesty’s Turkey Chair shows that nobody is immune to this systematic abuse of rights. Those who are arbitrarily detained in very poor conditions are also often subject to torture. Addressing the impunity of officials and prosecutors who participate in this charade is essential and may dissuade others from becoming involved.’