Mass detention warrant issued for Turkish lawyers, systematically targeted because of their work

The İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday ordered the detention of 66 lawyers as part of what appears to be a campaign against lawyers defending people accused of membership in dissident groups.

Police detained 55 of the suspects after raiding locations in 19 cities. Twenty-seven detainees are practicing lawyers, while the others are law school students or non-practicing attorneys.

Only last week the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued detention warrants for 60 lawyers on terror charges. In a statement the prosecution claimed that the lawyers followed up on “cases of Gülen-affiliated defendants” and “tried to manipulate the trials to the benefit of the terrorist organization under the guise of the practice of law.”

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

European law associations and rights groups have argued that the systematic arrest of lawyers is connected to their legitimate work activities and are part of a broader strategy to obliterate the right to a defense for many who are jailed on terror charges.

Turkey’s governing party has started working on an amendment to the law on lawyers following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call on September 1 for the suspension of lawyers accused of links to terrorism.

“We should be discussing whether methods such as expulsion from the profession should be introduced for lawyers,” Erdoğan had told judges and prosecutors at a ceremony in Ankara. Just as thieves should not be called on to defend burglars, “a terrorist should not be defended by a terrorist lawyer,” he had said.

The government has been accused of intimidating lawyers representing clients associated with dissident groups. 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 on Tuesday

“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.”

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