Bar association executives face new investigation over commemoration of Armenian genocide victims

Diyarbakır prosecutors have launched an investigation into 11 executives of the Diyarbakır Bar Association on accusations of “denigrating the Turkish nation and state,” over a 2021 statement commemorating the victims of the Armenian genocide, the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) reported on Thursday.

The investigation concerns Nahit Eren, the president of the bar association, as well as 10 board members and was launched after Diyarbakır prosecutors were granted authorization to proceed by the Justice Ministry.

In a statement released on April 24, 2021, on the occasion of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, the bar called for acknowledgment and recognition of the mass atrocities committed by the Ottoman authorities against the Armenian minority during World War I.

“The Armenian reality is one of the most crucial crossroads in terms of facing history,” the statement read. “It will keep haunting us and the victims as long as we leave it in the dark.”

The bar executives are accused of denigrating the Turkish state, which was founded in 1923, over a statement about mass atrocities committed eight years earlier, in 1915, the MLSA pointed out.

The investigation moved forward despite the fact that the bar executives were previously acquitted of the same charges in connection with another April 24 statement.

President Eren said the bar association has been the target of judicial harassment since 2017, with the Justice Ministry repeatedly authorizing new investigations.

“The goal is to exert pressure on civil society,” he said, adding that he has faced seven separate investigations under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation or Turkish government institutions.

Mehdi Özdemir, one of the bar executives being investigated, said the provision is frequently weaponized against people who speak out against the state’s official ideology or object to rights violations.

Between 2017 and 2023 the Diyarbakır Bar Association faced seven investigations due to its statements on April 24. Five of the investigations have turned into trials, four of which ended in acquittal. The investigation of the 2022 statement is still ongoing, and the probe concerning the 2023 statement is pending ministry authorization, the report said.

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