Turkey should end detention of lawyers held for representing clients: ICJ

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on Monday expressed its deep concern at the issuance of detention warrants for 60 lawyers in Turkey on grounds linked to the representation of their clients, in breach of the Turkish government’s international law obligations.

“Lawyers should never be arrested or sanctioned for representing their clients, or identified with their clients’ causes,” said Roisin Pillay, director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Program, “This is a basic principle of the independence of the legal profession and international law and its respect is essential to ensure that everyone has the right to a fair trial.”

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued detention warrants on September 11 for 60 lawyers on terror charges. The Turkish media has reported that 47 of the lawyers have been detained, while the police are searching for the remaining 13.

According to a statement issued by the prosecutor, 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 Turkish 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.

“If the sole charges against the lawyers arrested are related to their work as lawyers representing their clients, they should be immediately released,” said Pillay.

The ICJ stressed that they should not be subject to arrest for the legitimate exercise of any human rights and fundamental freedoms. “In the event that any of them are subject to charges for cognizable crime consistent with Turkish and international law, they must be brought immediately before a court to consider whether any continued detention is lawful,” the ICJ statement read. “If charged, they must be in ensured all rights of fair trial by independent and impartial courts.”

The statement said the ICJ would follow the case closely to ensure that international law and standards are respected concerning any action against the detained lawyers.

The detentions come in the aftermath of the news that 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 UN’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers say that “lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” (Article 18). In a 2018 report on Turkey, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had highlighteda 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.”

The ICJ is a Geneva-based non-profit organization composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world. It promotes and protects human rights through the rule of waw, by using its legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. Established in 1952, the ICJ aims to ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights and international humanitarian law; secure the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; safeguard the separation of powers; and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and legal profession.

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