LRWC urges Turkish gov’t to release 21 jailed lawyers of İstanbul Bar Association

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally, has urged the Turkish government to release 21 arbitrarily imprisoned members of the İstanbul Bar Association.

Writing a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül on September 11, 2018, LRWC said, “We strongly urge you to immediately release all of the 21 lawyers; to ensure that the sentences imposed are vacated; to cease the widespread systematic campaign to target lawyers in Turkey with wrongful prosecutions and arbitrary imprisonment.”

Reminding that they have written them in the past with respect to various Turkish lawyers who have either been detained, arrested, charged and/or imprisoned in violation of international human rights law, LRWC said: “Many of these lawyers were found guilty of ‘membership in an armed terrorist organization’ or ‘propaganda of terrorism,’ charges which are ill-defined and for which the evidence against these lawyers is insufficient to justify conviction of any criminal offense.

“It appears that in some cases, the only evidence on which the conviction was based was that the lawyer was simply been performing his or her job by defending a politically sensitive defendant, or was found guilty ‘by association’ because friends, colleagues or relatives had been under suspicion by the Turkish authorities.

“These convictions and sentences are part of an on-going campaign of widespread and systematic persecution of lawyers in Turkey. The goal of such persecution appears to prevent voices of dissent and opposition from being heard and critics from having legal representation.

“As of 20 August 2018, we understand that Turkey has prosecuted 1,544 lawyers on overly broad charges based on questionable accusations that preclude the right to a defense, 582 lawyers remain under arrest, and 162 lawyers have been sentenced to jail terms ranging from three to 12 years. Moreover, 21 of the lawyers wrongly convicted and arbitrarily imprisoned are members of the İstanbul Bar Association.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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