The Arrested Lawyers Initiative published the fifth edition of its report named ‘Mass Prosecution of Lawyers in Turkey‘.
According to the latest version of the report, since 2016’s coup attempt more than 1600 lawyers have been arrested and prosecuted while 615 lawyers have been remanded to pretrial detention. So far, 450 lawyers have been sentenced to a total of 2786 years in prison on the grounds of membership of an armed terrorism organization or of spreading terrorist propaganda.
15 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. In January 2021, former president of Diyarbakir Bar Association, Mehmet Emin Aktar was sentenced to six years and three months in prison under Art. 314 of Penal Code.
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. 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
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.28 Total of 891 intern lawyers have been denied lawyers’ licenses by the Turkish Ministry of Justice since 2015.
According to a recent report titled ‘Lawyers Without Licences’ there 1252 cases have been filed by the Ministry of Justice against the decisions of the Union of Turkish Bar Association admitting certain individuals to the profession of lawyer. In 376 cases the licences of the lawyers were annulled. In 175 cases, the Ministry’s request was denied. 701 cases were still pending. The report justifiably concluded that “interference with the profession of lawyer aims to dissuade dissident students at universities from exercising their rights and freedoms, to exclude from the profession individuals who are not deemed “agreeable”, to “cleanse” the future of the profession of lawyer from individuals with certain opinions, and to leave “a certain group of people” defenceless, without lawyers.”
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.
Categories: Unjust / Wrongful Convictions