The Turkish government has prosecuted 1,539 lawyers, arrested 580 and sentenced 103 lawyers to long prison terms since a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, according to a report released by The Arrested Lawyers Initiative on Tuesday.
The report, titled “Incarceration of Turkish Lawyers: En Masse Arrests and Convictions (2016-2018),” has revealed that all persecuted lawyers are being charged with terror-linked offences. The main two accusations directed against them have been membership to an armed terrorist organisation, and forming and leading an armed terrorist organisation.
Stating that Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) criminalises the establishing and commanding of (Article 314/1), as well as membership in (Article 314/2) an armed organisation, the report underlined that the TCK requires 7.5 to 22.5 years of imprisonment for those who allegedly committed either of these two offences.
“The TCK does not contain a definition of an armed organisation or an armed group,” the report said, and added that “The lack of legal definitions and criteria of the armed terrorist organization and the crime of membership in the armed terrorist organization make them prone to arbitrary application. Vague formulation of the criminal provisions on the security of the state and terrorism and their overly broad interpretation by the Turkish judges and prosecutors make all lawyers and other human rights defenders a prospective victim of judicial harassment.”
The report continued to underline that “[this] blurred area under the TCK is actively used by the Turkish government to investigate, prosecute and convict opponents. As it has become a common practice in after July 15, 2016 coup attempt, 402,000 people have been investigated, prosecuted and/or convicted for alleged terrorism offences stipulated in article 314 of TCK.”
Stating that the lawyers have particularly been targeted due to the identity or affinity of their clients, the report reminded that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that the OHCHR has “observed a pattern of persecution of lawyers representing individuals accused of terrorism offences, where they are associated with their clients political views (or alleged political views) in the discharge of their professional duties and are consequently prosecuted for the same or other related offences of which their clients are being accused.”
“The efforts and cooperation of the international organisations paramount in exerting pressure on Turkey to respect universal human rights and to bring its criminal law in line with the standards specified by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and acceptable to the European Commission and the European Union,” said the report.
It also added that the unified efforts of bar associations and other legal organizations in European countries are absolutely crucial for making the Turkish authorities stop criminalizing Turkish lawyers.
“Arrested lawyers and human rights defenders who have to suffer inhumane treatment at the hands of Turkish officials desperately need such action coming from European organizations. Any effort in support of arrested lawyers, human rights defenders and other victims of the Turkish government’s unlawful actions is highly appreciated,” read the report.
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 autocratic 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 more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”