Lawyers in Turkey face harassment, mistreatment over their work, int’l delegation says

An international delegation comprising 27 bar associations, human rights organizations and legal groups from eight countries reported severe mistreatment of lawyers in Turkey, pointing out the harassment, arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture they face over their work, Turkish Minute reported, citing the group’s statement published on Friday.

The international delegation, which visited Turkey from Nov. 6-9, 2023 for a fact-finding mission on the Turkish government’s treatment of criminal law and human rights lawyers, included prominent legal and human rights organizations primarily from Europe, such as the Bologna Bar Association, the Bordeaux Bar Association, the Brussels Bar Association, the Catalan Association for the Defence of Human Rights and many others.

The mission focused on the treatment of criminal law and human rights lawyers by the Turkish government.

The delegation’s joint statement expressed deep distress over the continuous harassment, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture and ill-treatment of lawyers in Turkey. These lawyers, including many from the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and the People’s Law Office (HHB), are targeted due to their legal work, including the clients they represent and their professional affiliations.

The delegation found that many lawyers have been imprisoned, some for more than five years, following unfair trials. The conditions of their detention violate internationally accepted standards, including the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, according to the delegation. Their statement says that lawyers face arbitrary and prolonged detentions, restricted family access and isolation, often interacting with only a few other detainees. Disciplinary measures are used to deny their conditional release, and there are alarming reports of torture.

Their mistreatment represents a clear violation of Turkey’s legal obligations to the international community, the delegation states. They emphasize that the Turkish government’s actions not only intimidate lawyers but also undermine the rule of law and access to justice, creating a climate of fear and insecurity for those working in criminal law and human rights defense.

The delegation demands an immediate halt to all acts of intimidation and harassment targeting lawyers. They call for the Turkish government to respect the independence of the legal profession in line with international law, including the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

It is common for Turkish authorities to target lawyers based on the identity of or the criminal charges against their clients. In recent years scores of lawyers have been detained and prosecuted for representing clients tried over pro-Kurdish political engagement, leftist activism or alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup in July 2016.

Turkey was ranked 116th among 140 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in 2022.

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