Turkish parliament to amend law after Erdoğan’s call for suspension of lawyers accused of terrorist links

Turkey's autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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, the Milliyet daily reported.

According to Milliyet, the amendment will make it possible to expel lawyers from the profession who “identify with their clients and have actions or statements that can be considered to be praising their crimes.” With the amendment the authority to start disciplinary investigations will be transferred from bars to either the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) or directly to the Ministry of Justice.

Under the current law, those lawyers who are sentenced to more than two years in prison due to the willful commission of a crime, those convicted of crimes against the state or the constitutional order and those convicted of bribery, theft, fraud, money laundering, fraudulent bankruptcy, abuse of confidence or smuggling are expelled from the profession and disbarred by their local bar associations.

In instances where there are no court cases against a lawyer but there is a complaint, bars are entitled to conduct disciplinary investigations. The resulting decision is subject to the approval of the TBB and later on the Ministry of Justice, but ultimately it is the bars that conduct the investigations.

President Erdoğan’s call came after protests over the death of lawyer Ebru Timtik last week in an İstanbul hospital after a 238-day hunger strike in support of a fair trial. She was convicted last year of membership in a terrorist organization based on the testimony of a secret witness used by the prosecution in numerous cases.

Timtik was a member of the Contemporary Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD), a leftist group accused of having close ties to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C), a militant Marxist group recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Following her death the İstanbul Bar Association hung a picture of Timtik outside its headquarters, in a protest dismissed by Erdoğan.

“We should be discussing whether methods such as expulsion from the profession should be introduced for lawyers,” he told judges and prosecutors at a ceremony in Ankara.

Just as thieves should not be called on to defend burglars, “a lawyer who defends terrorists should not be a terrorist,” he said.

Special rapporteurs from the UN Human Rights Council in a statement issued on Wednesday had condemned the death of Timtik and called on the Turkish government to release human rights defenders.

“This is an utter waste of a human life, and we are greatly dismayed at the death of this, courageous woman human rights defender, as well as the circumstances that led to her death,” the statement said.

Shortly after Timtik’s arrest, UN human rights experts had formally asked the Turkish government to explain the legal basis for her arrest and that of other imprisoned lawyers and the accusations against them.

The special rapporteurs said, “We asked the Turkish Government in 2017 to explain how their arrest and conviction were compatible with the State’s obligations under international human rights law.” Emphasizing allegations of unlawful detention, unfair trial and restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association, the rapporteurs said they “regret that little was done to prevent this tragic outcome.”

In a September 1 statement the European Union had also said it was deeply saddened by the death of Timtik as a result of a hunger strike. “The tragic outcome of their fight for a fair trial painfully illustrates the urgent need for the Turkish authorities to credibly address the human rights situation in the country,” the EU statement read.

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