European law associations to Turkey: Immediately release 55 lawyers

Six European law associations in a letter to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Thursday urged the Turkish government to immediately release 55 lawyers and trainee lawyers who were detained last week.

The associations said they fear that the arrest of the lawyers is connected to their legitimate activities as lawyers and that this is contrary to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

The statement comes in the aftermath of the detention of 47 lawyers in dawn raids on September 11 and a search of their offices. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued detention warrants for 60 people including 48 lawyers, seven legal interns, four dismissed judges and a law school graduate over their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

In a statement the prosecution claimed that the lawyers followed up on “cases of Gülen-affiliated defendants” and “tried to manipulate the trials to the benefit of the terrorist organization under the guise of the practice of law.”

The Turkish government deems the Gülen movement a terrorist organization and accuses it of masterminding a July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The movement strongly denies involvement in the failed coup or any terrorist activity.

The associations voiced their concerns about the news that during interrogations, the lawyers were questioned in relation to their professional activities, some of which violate the principle of attorney-client privilege.

The signatory organizations said they have drawn attention to the worrying situation of lawyers in Turkey on many occasions. “For years lawyers in Turkey have been subjected to judicial harassment, including mass arrests, threats, surveillance, unfair trials and harsh sentences.” the letter said. “Many lawyers who legally represent clients in politically sensitive cases or otherwise carry out their professional duties in accordance with the rule of law are being arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities.”

The letter highlighted the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular Articles 16 and 18, which read:

  1. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (…) (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
  2. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.

The six organizations urged the Turkish government to “drop all charges against the lawyers unless credible evidence is presented in proceedings that respect fair trial guarantees and put an end to all acts of harassment against them” and to guarantee that all lawyers in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate professional activities “without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.”

The letter was co-signed by Lawyers for Lawyers, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, the Bar Council of England and Wales, and the German Lawyers Association (Deutscher Anwaltverein).

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