Exiled Turkish lawyers blast Turkish Bar Association for its silence

An advocacy group set up by exiled Turkish lawyers has decried the silence of Turkish Bar Association (TBB) in the face of massive crackdown on lawyers and human rights defenders and condemned its chairman Metin Feyzioğlu for flatly denying credible torture allegations that take place in Turkey’s detention centers and prisons.

In a statement made by the Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative (ALI) to Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), the group accused TBB of remaining indifferent to the plight of hundreds of jailed lawyers by Turkish government on dubious charges and said “a lack of apathy appears to have taken the TBB leadership as hostage as they have not shown a real and effective engagement to free their members from unlawful detention and imprisonment.”

345 LAWYERS ARE IN PRISONS, FOR NOW

Turkish authorities have issued sweeping arrest warrants against 770 lawyers within last seven months on what is believed to be a part of crackdown on critics and opponents of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. So far 345 lawyers including prominent criminal law attorneys and heads of provincial Bar Associations were formally arrested while many were forced to self-exile to avoid torture and ill treatment in jails. The government also purged 108 academics including famous law professors from law schools of public universities and fired 108 government lawyers en masse.

What is more, the authorities also ordered the seizure of all assets of lawyers who faced an arrest although they were not convicted of any crime and there was no indictment filed and no trial hearing held yet. The seizure of assets has deprived family members of their livelihood while lawyers are left languishing behind bars in long pre-trial detentions. The ALI criticized the position of TBB and its leadership for not taking a strong position against the crackdown and not mounting a rigorous defense for the rights of accused lawyers.

TBB AND FEYZİOĞLU CHOOSE TO COLLABORATE WITH THE OPPRESSORS

“It is a shame for Feyzioğlu and the TBB to be not quite vocal in the face of crackdown while our European colleagues have shown solidarity for the arrested lawyers in Turkey and taken a strong position against gross violation of fundamental rights of lawyers and human rights defenders,” the statement further noted.

Michel Benichou, President of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), has stated that he is deeply concerned about the safety of the judiciary in Turkey and called on Turkish President Erdoğan to release lawyers in Turkish prisons.

In a letter to Erdoğan on behalf of the CCBE, Benichou said CCBE which represents around a million European lawyers and gathers together bar associations of 32 countries in Europe and an additional eleven associates and observer members, Turkey must assure that all lawyers in Turkey are under protection against any kind of punishment and threat.

The Italian Bar Council (Consiglio Nazionale Forense) has also slammed Turkish government over arrested and persecuted lawyers in a letter sent by the Italian Bar Council’s President Andrea Mascherin to Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ.

In his letter, Mascherin has expressed his strongest condemnation for the closure of associations of lawyers an the arrest of many lawyers in Turkey and asks to Justice Minister Bozdağ to act in full compliance with the principles of fair process recognized by international agreements and also base on evidence lawfully acquired in full compliance with procedural rules.

Ekkehart Schaffer, the President of the German Federal Bar (Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer), which represents 28 German Bars and entire legal profession in Germany, had sent a harsh letter to Justice Minister Bozdağ and asked to take all necessary measures to guarantee that lawyers in Turkey are able to perform their professional duties without fear of intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference.

DEAF AND BLIND TO TORTURES IN DETENTION

The ALI also slammed Feyzioğlu for remarks in which he rejected credible torture reports in Turkish detentions and prisons, parroting the government line of denial. Speaking at a panel in Washington DC on Sept. 2016, “We do not have a definitive evidence of torture. There is no torture incident or evidence available,” he told the audience according to a report by news portal washingtonhatti.com.

Human right advocacy group Amnesty International (AI) said last year that it has credible evidence of torture including severe beatings and rape in detention centers in Turkey and urged Turkish government to allow independent monitors to access the detainees. AI also said that the detainees had been denied access to lawyers and family members had not been properly informed of the charges against them, undermining their right to a fair trial.

In December of last year, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer said, during a press conference in Ankara, that the environment in Turkey following the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016 was conducive to torture.

On Oct. 27, 2016, in a 43-page report titled “A Blank Check: Turkey’s Post-Coup Suspension of Safeguards Against Torture,” Human Rights Watch documented 13 specific abuse incidents concerning Turkey’s post-coup detainees. The alleged abuse cases ranged from the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation to severe beatings, sexual abuse and the threat of rape.

TBB AND FEYZİOĞLU INSENSITIVE TO ARRESTED LAWYERS’ SUFFERINGS

According to ALI, representatives of TBB have neither paid a visit to jailed lawyers nor sent a mission to investigate torture and abuse allegations. Among jailed lawyers include heads of 10 local or regional bar associations.

All arrested lawyers are charged under country’s abusive anti-terror laws and coup plotting allegations despite no evidence presented to support any of these claims. Most of the lawyers who have been detained pending trial are yet to be indicted. For those who have been indicted, lengthy prison sentences are being sought. Arrested lawyers were also pressured to divulge confidential information about their clients and questioned why they made public statements to the press about accusations their clients faced as they were defending them in the court of law. In several cases, prosecutors even asked why lawyers had mounted a rigorous defense on behalf of clients.

The Turkish government have also targeted Turkish lawyers’ right to association. 30 different lawyers’ societies or associations have been shut down since the declaration of the state of emergency. Following their closing down by a government decree, all their assets have also been confiscated without compensation. Among shuttered include the Progressive Lawyers’ Association whose president Selçuk Kozağaçlı talked about terrible torture cases while addressing the audience at the General Assembly of the Ankara Bar Association on Dec. 16, 2016.

“They pull the nails of fellow lawyers at police stations [during detention]. Believe me, I saw tortured people who underwent a colectomy after objects had been inserted into their anuses in prisons and police stations. Are you aware that soldiers, civil servants, judges, prosecutors and ordinary citizens affiliated with the (Gülen) Movement are being systematically tortured? They are being raped in prisons. Why don’t you stand up [for them]?” he remarked.  The government decided to shut down this association within a month following Kozağaçlı’s this speech.

EVEN ACTING AS A VOLUNTARY AGENT OF OPPRESSORS

ALI also draws attention to another problem facing lawyers in Turkey. It told SCF that dismissed judges and prosecutors want to work as lawyers to support themselves and their families but obstructed from doing so because of TBB. According to Turkish legal code on lawyers, judges and prosecutors who have served five years have right to work as a lawyer without going through an internship under the supervision of Bar Association. Despite this rule, the TBB refuses to admit applications for a license filed by dismissed judges and prosecutors. Moreover, the TBB also rejects to process applications from candidates who have already completed their internships as lawyer before and secured their attorney licenses.

In addition to lawyers, the government dismissed 4,493 judges and prosecutors on trumped up charges. Some 2,500 judges and public prosecutors are currently jailed and almost 700 of these are forced to live in solitary confinement conditions in Turkish prisons as they wait for indictment and trial hearings.

Over 46,000 people are jailed in Turkey in the last seven months and some 135,000 people were dismissed from government jobs with little or no evidence on alleged crimes. The government released approximately 40,000 convicted felons from prisons to make room for arrested lawyers, judges, prosecutors, academicians, businessmen, teachers and journalists.

March 7, 2017

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!