International bar associations plead for release of Turkish lawyers on death fast

Ebru Timtik and Aytac Unsal
Lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal

Twenty-two international bar associations have asked Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals to order the release of lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal, who went on a hunger strike on February 3 and a death fast on April 5, demanding a fair trial for the two, Cumhuriyet daily reported.

The associations submitted to the court the final report of a fact-finding mission on the trials of 18 members of the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) including Timtik and Ünsal. The lawyers have been in prison since September 12, 2018 on charges of membership in the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army/Front (DHKP-C), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

On March 20, 2019 the Istanbul 37th High Criminal Court handed down sentences to the lawyers ranging from three to 18 years. Timtik was sentenced to 13 years, six months and Aytaç Ünsal to 10 years, six months. According to the ruling the two were accused of “communicating the organization’s messages to captured members and acting as couriers.” The cases will be heard by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle Turkish service about the cases, Istanbul Bar Association President Mehmet Durakoğlu said there was no concrete evidence and that the entire case was based on the testimony of a secret witness who was used by the prosecution in a variety of cases. Durakoğlu said the judge went so far as to remind the secret witness of some of the “facts” about the case. He said the witness thanked the judge in return, saying, “Good thing you reminded me.”

The two lawyers had taken on important cases such as the mining disaster in Soma that cost the lives of 301 miners, the death of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who was hit on the head with a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer during the June 2013 anti-government protests in Turkey that are known as Gezi protests, and the death of Engin Çeber in prison due to torture.

According to Durakoğlu the lawyers were asked why they had taken certain cases and why they had visited certain locations due to their cases. To him, these questions were akin to asking “Why are you practicing law?” Durakoğlu said the issue had nothing to do with personalities or ideologies. “It is rather about the right to a fair trial, and that’s why we support them,” he said.

Human rights defender and Republican People’s Party (CHP) Diyarbakır deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu said the lawyers were initially released in September 2018 at the first hearing. But the judges of the court were subsequently appointed to other courts, and the new judges reversed the decision. He said the court essentially ignored the defense, and similarly the court of appeals had made a hasty judgment without any hearings.

Demirtaş’s message was posted to his Twitter account.

Jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş, himself a lawyer, sent a message from prison to Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül in support of the two lawyers that read: “All political considerations aside, please do not let humanity die. For my colleagues, I am asking for a favor from a politician for the first time in my life. Please deal with this issue yourself. Let lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal live.”

The bar associations of 19 Turkish cities including İstanbul and Ankara issued press statements for the release of Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal on June 15. Petitions signed by 400 lawyers from Turkey and an additional 356 lawyers from 20 other countries were also submitted to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The 22 bar associations that co-signed the report are as follows:

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE)

International Association of Lawyers (UIA)

National Bars Council of France (CNB)

Bar Association of Italy

European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights (ELDH)

European Democratic Lawyers (AED-EDL)

International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL)

Endangered Lawyers

Day of the Endangered Lawyers

Defense Without Borders – Solidarity Lawyers (DSF AS)

Democratic Lawyers/Italy

Progressive Lawyers Network

International Observatory for Lawyers (OIAD)

Italian Criminal Lawyers Association (UCPI)

Bars Association of Lawyers Speaking French, German, and Dutch (OBFG/Avocats.be)

Bar Associations of the cities of:

  • Brussels
  • Liege
  • Paris
  • Athens
  • Barcelona
  • Berlin
  • Vienna
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