PACE report lambasts Turkey on severe restrictions to access to a lawyer

A draft report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) lambasted Turkey on severe restrictions placed on access to lawyers by detainees, saying that “against the background of extremely serious allegations of torture and the inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees, the lack of access to a lawyer is all the more worrying.”

The report, written by French lawmaker Marietta Karamanli of Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, said many people who were arrested in Turkey have been held incommunicado for several days without any contact with their family and with no possibility of contacting a lawyer.

“We are currently witnessing a very serious and disconcerting erosion of the principles and standards of the rule of law in Turkey. This erosion, which began before the attempted coup on 15 July 2016 and has already been condemned by our Assembly in Resolution 2121 (2016), has since then taken on new proportions”, the report said.

PACE report described that mass arrests and purges by Turkish government were arbitrary and noted that lawyers were pressured to not represent suspects accused of belonging to what the government called FETÖ terrorist organization. Dozens of lawyers have been detained on suspicion of having links to the FETÖ.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government labelled Gülen movement, inspired by the teachings of US-based Turkish intellectual, as terrorist group and jailed over 45,000 people in the last six months alone. Gülen, 75-year old cleric, and his followers have never advocated violence but rather remained staunchly opposed to any violence, radicalism and terror in the name of religion.

French deputy recalled that a group of United Nations experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Ms Monica Pinto, have called on Turkey to respect the independence of the judiciary and the principles of the rule of law, including in times of crisis. “In particular, these experts have urged the authorities to guarantee detainees access to the lawyer of their choice”, she emphasized.

According to data compiled by ‘Arrested Lawyers Initiative’, 301 lawyers are currently in jail and arrest warrants have been issued by courts about more than 100 lawyers in Turkey. Moreover, 702 lawyers are currently under legal investigation.

Ekkehart Schaffer, the President of the German Federal Bar (Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer), which represents 28 German Bars and entire legal profession in Germany, had sent a harsh letter to Justice Minister Bozdağ and asked to take all necessary measures to guarantee that lawyers in Turkey are able to perform their professional duties without fear of intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference.

The Italian Bar Council (Consiglio Nazionale Forense) has also slammed Turkish government over arrested and persecuted lawyers in a letter sent by the Italian Bar Council’s President Andrea Mascherin to Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ.

In his letter, Mascherin has expressed his strongest condemnation for the closure of associations of lawyers an the arrest of many lawyers in Turkey and asks to Justice Minister Bozdağ to act in full compliance with the principles of fair process recognized by international agreements and also base on evidence lawfully acquired in full compliance with procedural rules.

Noting that several decree-laws have introduced limitations to detainees’ right to access a lawyer under emergency rule in Turkey, PACE rapporteur stated that “I do not share the view expressed by the Turkish delegation in its reply that all the measures taken since the attempted coup on 15 July 2016 have been “necessary, urgent and proportionate”. The arguments concerning necessity and urgency, more than four months after the attempted coup, seem to me to have lost some of their relevance.”

She predicted that “as regards the matter of the proportionality of these measures, it is highly likely that the European Court of Human Rights, to which hundreds of applications have now been made in this connection, will issue a ruling on this subject.”.

Karamanli pointed out that government decrees directly call into question “the principle of the confidentiality of client-lawyer communications” because they authorized officials to be present during conversations between persons held in police custody and their lawyers as well as to record and even interrupt those conversations. “Moreover, detainees are no longer free to appoint a lawyer of their own choosing”, she added.

Turkish government decision to allow prosecutors to order lawyers’ offices to be searched and documents seized without the prior decision of a court on July 27, 2016 was also noted in the draft report.

PACE deputy also criticized suspect’s right to communicate with lawyers, saying that in her view “excluding the lawyer at this stage eliminates an effective means of preventing cases of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment in the period preceding interrogations.”

The report concludes that “we must ensure that the legislation once again complies with international standards guaranteeing the rule of law and human rights – especially those defined in the Venice Commission’s Rule of Law Checklist – and we must condemn these situations in the strongest possible terms and call on the Turkish authorities to re-establish the procedural guarantees of a fair trial by upholding human rights and the principles of a State governed by the rule of law and conducting effective, impartial and conscientious investigations without delay into the allegations of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and, indeed, deaths in detention.”

Most suspects in pre-trial detention in Turkey are charged under abusive anti-terror and coup laws. Many are accused of being involved in a failed coup that Erdogan blamed on Gülen. Yet Turkish government has so far failed to present any direct evidence linking Gülen to the attempt while Gülen himself strongly denied any involvement. Many believe Erdogan staged the failed coup himself to set up his critics for a mass persecution and as a pretext to transform secular parliamentary democracy to political Islamist autocracy.

Feb. 24, 2017

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