PACE report: Situation of lawyers in Turkey causes grave concerns

“The situation of lawyers in Turkey following the failed coup d’état of July 2016 and that of lawyers representing Kurdish clients, or otherwise associated with the Kurdish cause, have both given rise to grave concerns,” said Sabien Lahaye-Battheu, a reporter appointed by Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) for “The case for drafting a European Convention on the profession of lawyer.

Laheye-Battheu, who is a member of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) at European Parliament from Belgium, has also stated in her report’s provisional version that “the decree laws introduced under Turkey’s state of emergency reduced the rights of the defence” in the country.

The report’s parts related to the situation of defence and lawyers in Turkey as follow:

“According to the CCBE, by September 13, 2017, 1343 lawyers were subject to criminal prosecution and 524 had been arrested since the coup. These included 18 lawyers who had been representing the university lecturer and teacher dismissed under the emergency decree-laws.

“Further mass arrests of lawyers accused of links with the Gülen movement include those of 19 lawyers in Kahramanmaraş province, 11 lawyers in Denizli province, arrest warrants for 62 members of the İstanbul Bar Association, 22 lawyers in İzmir (including Taner Kılıç, chair of Amnesty International Turkey), 4 lawyers and members of the Human Rights Association (IHD) in Mardin province; 22 lawyers in Antalya and 50 lawyers in İstanbul.

“On May 9, 2017, Mustafa Özben, a lawyer and academic at a university shut down by the Turkish government on account of alleged links to the Gülen movement, was abducted in Ankara, following which his wife filed a complaint with the Turkish Constitutional Court alleging that he was kidnapped by the Turkish intelligence services.

“In July 2017, 3 lawyers were imprisoned for up to 12 years on charges relating to links to the Gülen movement.

“The CCBE has referred to a statement by the Adana Bar Association expressing its members ‘fear’ and ‘concern’ about possible reprisals against lawyers…, the decision made by some not to provide legal assistance to people detained in relation to the failed coup, and the negative treatment they faced from the police and prosecutors if they represented the detainees.

“There have also been mass arrests of lawyers associated with the Kurdish community: Recent examples include 9 lawyers arrested along with 210 other members of the (Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party) HDP, the arrest and physical abuse of a lawyer as one of 568 persons detained as part of an investigation into the HDP, and the arrest of 9 members of the Libertarian Lawyers’ Association who were representing the 46 lawyers already on trial for participating in the defence of Abdullah Öcalan.

“Even more disturbing was the 2015 killing of Tahir Elçi, head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association and a leading Kurdish lawyer, who was shot dead at a press conference by unidentified gunmen, a few weeks after a criminal investigation for ‘terrorist propaganda’ had been opened against him.

“More generally, the decree laws introduced under Turkey’s state of emergency reduced the rights of the defence: As noted in the explanatory report to Assembly Resolution 2156 (2017) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, ‘access by detainees to a lawyer could be restricted for up to five days, and there were also restrictions on the right to a lawyer of their own choice or their right to confidential conversations with their lawyers. In addition to these legal hurdles, […] lawyers also face a series of practical obstacles when visiting their clients, such as restricted visiting hours, or the obligation to make an appointment with their client.

“While it is obvious that the scale of the arrests and detentions have put an extra burden on the police and the justice system which have limited logistical capacities, this should not be at the expense of the most basic rights of the defence, such as access to a lawyer.” (It should be noted that the restriction on access to a lawyer during the first five days of detention was lifted on January 23, 2017.)”

According to data compiled by independent monitoring site The Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative, 565 lawyers have been arrested as of November 28, 2017 since July 15, 2016 and 1,448 lawyers were under prosecution as of Oct. 27, 2017. Sixty-nine lawyers have received lengthy prison sentences thus far. Some of the arrested lawyers were reportedly subjected torture and ill treatment. Fourteen of the detained or arrested lawyers are  presidents or former presidents of provincial bar associations.

The Turkish government has arrested a total of 2,431 judges and prosecutors and dismissed 4,424 others since a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Constitutional Court general assembly ruling revealed on early August 2017.

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 Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

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 more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, 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.

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