Lawyers detained solely for practicing legal profession should be immediately and unconditionally released: Amnesty International

All lawyers who have been detained solely for practicing the legal profession should be immediately and unconditionally released, Amnesty International said in a public statement on Monday, referring to recent operations against lawyers across Turkey.

The statement comes in the aftermath of a new crackdown on dissent in Turkey in which dozens of lawyers allegedly linked to Gülen movement, pro-Kurdish politicians, political activists and other civil society actors were detained on “terrorism”-related charges.

In its statement, Amnesty International expressed deep concern that continuing abusive investigations, arbitrary detentions and unfounded prosecutions under broadly defined anti-terrorism laws would further erode the right to a fair trial and result in the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of people who have been peacefully exercising their human rights in Turkey.

The human rights watchdog urged the Turkish authorities to respect the independence of the legal profession, to allow lawyers to conduct their work freely, individually or in association with others, and to protect the lawyers’ right to privacy by enforcing client/lawyer confidentiality in line with international human rights standards.

Forty-seven lawyers were detained in dawn raids on terrorism-related charges on September 11 and their offices were searched based on warrants issued by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. After 12 days in detention, some 15 lawyers were remanded in pre-trial detention on “terrorism”-related charges, while the others were released on bail.

The prosecution accuses the lawyers, “under the guise of attorneyship activities,” of acting on the orders of a terrorist organization because of the legal work they perform on behalf of their clients. The accusations are based on their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

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

“Investigating lawyers for exercising their professional duties and representing clients accused of ‘terrorism’-related offenses threatens the very core principles of the right to a fair trial,” the statement said. “Criminal proceedings against lawyers in connection with their professional activities and associating them with the alleged crimes of their clients undermine the right to legal representation and defense.”

According to the human rights watchdog, identifying lawyers with the profile and alleged crimes of their clients may have a chilling effect on the rights of the accused to a fair trial by dissuading lawyers from taking the cases of people accused of terrorism-related charges.

According to the statement the interrogation lawyers’ records examined by Amnesty International show that they were questioned about their professional relations with other lawyers arising from basic lawyering practices, such as attending each other’s hearings or allocating case files to each other, implying an organizational relationship.

The statement said the lawyers and their legal representatives were not allowed to examine the investigation files or obtain information concerning the substance of the allegations due to a secrecy order and as such were denied the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

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.

The Amnesty International statement also raised concerns over the operations against politicians and political activists from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for their alleged role in violent protests in October 2014 that led to at least 37 deaths. Eighty-two prominent members of the HDP were detained on September 25 over their alleged role in protests in southeastern Turkey, which were a reaction to what is seen by many as the Turkish government’s tacit approval of the Kobane siege in 2014, when Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants laid a prolonged siege to a Kurdish town in northern Syria.

“Amnesty International is concerned that the decision to remand former and current members of the HDP in pre-trial detention without providing reliable evidence other than comments they and the Party posted on social media may violate their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and undermines their right to a fair trial,” the statement said. “Such a decision further signals another politically motivated crackdown on legitimate political dissent.”

The human rights watchdog called on the Turkish authorities to unconditionally release “[a]ll those arbitrarily detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

The latest raids against activists and social media users across the country were also criticized in the statement. Amnesty International said in these cases the content of the social media posts forming the basis of the allegations are protected under the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under international human rights law. The human rights watchdog urged the authorities to put an end to the targeting of social media users, political opponents, public figures and others simply for expressing their dissenting opinions by invoking legal provisions in Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws to criminalize dissent and silence opposing views.

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