Aytaç Ünsal, a lawyer who had until recently been on a hunger strike in support of his demand for a fair trial, was detained and arrested yesterday on charges that he was trying to illegally flee the country and was allegedly beaten by the police while in custody, according to his father Nihat Ünsal.
Nihat Ünsal shared a photograph of his son’s battered face on Twitter. “We moved to a hotel in Istanbul to seek treatment for my son, who ended a hunger strike on September 3. But we were not left alone there as armed police officers raided our room,” he said.
Avukat oğlum Aytaç Ünsal 3 Eylül 2020 de ölüm orucunu sonlandırdı. Tedavi için götürdüğümüz hastahane yönetimine baskı yaparak tedaviyi engellediniz, Istanbul Hakimevine taşındık oradada rahat bırakmadınız gece saat 01de arandık ve orada kalamayacağımız söylendi. pic.twitter.com/bxPepOdYye
— Nihat ÜNSAL (@NihatNSAL14) December 10, 2020
Ünsal had been on a hunger strike for 213 days and was released from prison on September 3 due to health reasons and called off his hunger strike the following day.
The Supreme Court of Appeals conditionally released Ünsal “until he recovers” from his hunger strike. Although he had previously refused medical treatment, Ünsal agreed to it after his release.
His father claimed that the hospital was pressured into stopping Ünsal’s treatment, so they moved to Istanbul. “Please tell me as a father, where should we go to live?” he asked.
Ünsal had 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. He was accused of “communicating the organization’s messages to captured members and acting as a courier” and sentenced to 10 years, six months by an İstanbul court on March 20, 2017. The case was based on the testimony of a secret witness who has been used by the prosecution in a variety of cases.
The People’s Law Firm (Halkın Hukuk Bürosu), of which Ünsal is a member, published a statement saying he was beaten during detention and that there were significant bruises and marks on his body. They added that Ünsal was not given his medication and that his arrest was completely contrary to the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals as he had not recovered from his hunger strike. “Aytaç Ünsal’s arrest is unlawful, as he his continuing with his treatment,” they said.
The Turkish government has been accused of intimidating lawyers representing clients associated with dissident groups. In September, rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed concern over the situation of lawyers in Turkey after what they defined as “a series of worrying developments” in a press statement.
“Lawyers should not be criminalized for exercising their profession, or convicted on dubious charges,” said Alexandra Louis, PACE’s general rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member states, and Thomas Hammarberg and John Howell, the two co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Turkey.
In a 2018 report, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted “a pattern of persecution of lawyers representing individuals accused of terrorism offenses, being associated with their clients’ cause (or alleged cause) while discharging their official functions, and consequently prosecuted for the same or related crime attributed to their client.”
According to a report by The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to “defending the defenders,” more than 1,600 lawyers have been detained, over 600 have been arrested and 441 have been convicted of the charge of membership in a terrorist organization.