Turkish lawyers should not be criminalized for engaging in their profession: PACE

Rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have 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.

Last week’s decision of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals to uphold prison sentences against 14 lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) involved in “terrorism-related” cases or cases deemed sensitive was mentioned in the statement as part of the worrying developments.

Louis also pointed to other recent developments in Turkey, including the arrest of 47 lawyers on September 11 and searches of their offices as well as the prosecution of more than 1,500 lawyers since July 2016. “These actions do not help to create the proper conditions for lawyers to work. Once again, I call on the Turkish authorities to put an end to all forms of reprisals against lawyers, including judicial harassment and arbitrary detention,” she said.

Pointing to a recent report by PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee, the rapporteurs said: “The Turkish justice system must respect the European Convention on Human Rights and rule of law standards. Lawyers play a key role in the implementation of these standards, and the effective administration of justice. They must therefore be able to exercise their profession independently and safely.”

Hammarberg and Howell added that the adoption of the law on bar associations in July 2020 by the Turkish parliament, without proper consultation, was “another step which could jeopardize the position of lawyers in the Turkish justice system,” pointing out that the Monitoring Committee had therefore requested a Venice Commission opinion on the law. “We shall continue to follow the situation of lawyers in Turkey at our forthcoming meetings, and we stand ready to explore, together with the Turkish authorities, how the Council of Europe can engage in meaningful dialogue to improve the situation of lawyers in Turkey,” the two said.

The disputed law is expected to strengthen small provincial bars at the expense of the large associations in major cities that are perceived to be more critical of the government, and it was passed despite strong objections by lawyers who took to the streets to protest what they viewed as a political encroachment on their profession.

The government’s plan was also criticized by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, who described it as a calculated move to divide the legal profession along political lines and diminish the biggest bar associations’ role as human rights watchdogs.

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