A crucial piece of advice; If you are a senior Turkish judge who is close enough to a drug lord to take a photo of him and his family while he is being sought for murder, beware of any reflective surfaces behind your boss. If, however, you are unlucky enough to be identified from your reflection and lose your job as a judge, you can rejoice in the fact that the Turkish Bar Association will welcome you as a lawyer with open arms. Ask Kemal Alver; he would tell you all about it.
As we mark another Human Rights Day, hundreds of our fellow lawyers still languish in Turkish prisons. The Turkish Government’s crackdown on lawyers using the failed coup of July 2016 as a pretext has not lost momentum even after more than 6 years. Our colleagues continue to be harassed, intimidated, and arrested for simply doing their jobs. Their client lists continue to be the primary evidence for their arrests together with what newspapers they read, or which bank they held accounts in. As of this Human Rights Day, more than 1600 of our colleagues have been detained for membership in a terrorist organisation under Turkey’s infamously vague anti-terror laws which Erdogan’s governments have been shamelessly abusing in order to silence dissent.
Since 2016, in Turkey 551 lawyers have been sentenced to 3356 years in prison over terrorism-related charges, mostly membership in terrorist organisations. pic.twitter.com/lyUsP3SHHt— The Arrested Lawyers (@ArrestedLawyers) November 11, 2022
The Turkish judiciary as shaped by Erdogan himself following the implication of his son in corruption together with his ministers back in 2013, has been instrumental in the persecution of Turkish lawyers. Erdogan has dismissed, arrested, and imprisoned thousands of judges and prosecutors overnight and replaced them with his foot soldiers from the ranks of his own party and the nationalist MHP, his political ally. The past improper conduct of some judges was overlooked so long as they were prepared to do Erdogan’s bidding in cracking down on the opposition. It was finally the time of the likes of ex-judge Kemal Alver.
Shortly after the all-important HSYK election of October 2015 Erdogan entrusted the chair of the provincial “Commission on Justice ” of Samsun to Judge Alver who at the time was the president of Samsun High Criminal Court. The commission is a critical judicial body which is responsible for providing reports about members of the judiciary on which the HSK bases its decisions of promotion or demotion. It is also responsible for recruiting court clerks.
Galip Öztürk is a “businessman’ with a long list of criminal activities ranging from stock market manipulation to incitement to murder. He was at one point deported by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on the grounds that he was an international drug trafficker. Öztürk fled to Georgia in 2018 after his life imprisonment sentence was upheld for ordering the murder of a man. According to Georgian media, he is now under arrest following a search in his house where more than 7 kilograms of cocaine were seized.
Galip Öztürk is from Samsun where Judge Kemal Alver was once the head of the criminal court. That is where their paths must have first crossed. Öztürk’s criminal dealings must have ended up on Judge Alver’s desk which led to Judge Alver ending up in an infamous international criminal’s pocket. It later emerged that Alver’s daughter who was a lawyer started to act for Öztürk.
Erdogan’s crackdown on the judiciary and legal profession provided Judge Alver with the perfect opportunity to cover up his shady dealings with the criminal world and prove himself as a handy tool for Erdogan’s own purposes. He was the judge who sent 13 local lawyers to prison under anti-terrorism laws following a 21-month trial during which all our colleagues were held in pre-trial detention. Our respected colleagues Fevzi Cem Şenocak and Yusuf Zotluoğlu were sentenced by Judge Alver to 10.5 years and 7.5 years in prison respectively whereas our esteemed colleagues Mustafa Kemal Açıcı, Zekeriya Albayrak, Serdar Kutlu, Neşe Yıldızoğlu, Fatma Şen were sentenced to 6.5 years. They were all members of the Samsun Bar Association.
Today, 13 lawyers who are members of Samsun Bar Association were convicted of terrorism charges:— The Arrested Lawyers (@ArrestedLawyers) May 16, 2018
Fevzi Cem Şenocak: 10½ years
Yusuf Zotluoğlu: 7½ years
MKAçıcı, ZAlbayrak, SKutlu, NYıldızoğlu, Fatma Şen: 6¼ years
SŞenocak, KYıldız, SBaskın, EÇatar, DKütükçü, Recep Bağ: 1,5 years pic.twitter.com/oZouZVxoCr
On the day the Turkish Court of Cassation upheld a high court decision which found Öztürk guilty of incitement to murder, he fled to Georgia where he reportedly continued to run his shady dealings. He obviously did not feel he had to conceal his whereabouts from the Turkish authorities as he was sharing his photos on his Twitter account from time to time. It was one of such photos which finally exposed Kemal Alver as a judge who had been abusing his authority to do the bidding of a crime boss. In the photo, Galip Öztürk is posing together with his family in what appears to be the reception of a hotel. Immediately behind them are large windows which clearly reflect the image of the person who is actually taking the photo. That person is none other than Kemal Alver. When Öztürk realises his mistake, he immediately deletes the post and replaces the photo with another which does not show the reflection of Kemal Alver in the window behind him but not before an eagle-eyed local journalist recognises Judge Alver and downloads the unedited photo. When asked by the journalist as to whether it is him in the photo Judge Alver confirms that it is actually him.
When the scandal found its way to the national news outlets, HSK, the governing body of judges and prosecutors, reluctantly started an investigation. Instead of dismissing him, HSK asked Judge Alver to retire which he agreed to do.
The Turkish Bar Association and most of the provincial bar associations have either been wilfully ignorant of the persecution of their members or they have actively played down the magnitude of it. Metin Feyzioglu, the former president of the Turkish Bar Association, is now reaping the rewards of his efforts to whitewash the torturing of his fellow Turkish lawyers in Cyprus as Turkey’s ambassador to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
When his shady dealings with a drug baron finally caught up with him, the Samsun Bar association admitted him as a registered lawyer. They obviously did not think such an admission would not harm the reputation of the legal profession. According to some reports Kemal Alver continues to serve his boss but this time as a lawyer by courtesy of both the National and local Samsun Bar Associations.
Erdogan will be in Samsun on this Human Rights Day on the 10th of December. He will be talking about how great a country Turkey has become under his rule as he always does. Our fellow Turkish lawyers from Samsun will still be in prison serving their long sentences while some others who should never have set foot in a courtroom either as a judge or a lawyer will be making the most of the times when the good is pursued and the bad is favoured depending on where they stand politically.