Turkey issues detention warrants for 60 lawyers following Erdoğan’s call to suspend attorneys accused of terrorist links

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Friday issued detention warrants for 60 lawyers on terror charges, following a call by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the suspension of lawyers accused of terrorist links in a speech on September 1, Turkish Minute reported.

According to a statement released by the office, detention warrants were issued for 48 lawyers, seven trainee lawyers, four dismissed judges and a law school graduate over their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

The lawyers followed up on “the 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 prosecutor’s statement read.

The Turkish government accuses the movement 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.

Rights groups and lawyers criticized the detention warrants and claimed that the latest move was part of a broader strategy to obliterate the right to a defense for many who are jailed on terror charges.

“An assault on lawyers in Turkey was launched after the failed 2016 coup. This assault started with the arrest of the chair of the Konya Bar Association and 20 lawyers and has been ongoing since then,” said Barış Çelik, a lawyer who spoke to Turkish Minute.

“Up until the present day, nearly 1,600 lawyers have been detained, more than 600 have been arrested and 441 have been convicted over activities related to the practice of law.”

Another law practitioner, Ömer Turanlı, told Turkish Minute that even though lawyers visited the courthouse regularly, they were rounded up by 1,500 police officers.

“The police detained pregnant women, handcuffing them behind their back,” Turanlı said.

“Due process was ignored, case files the lawyers had worked on were gathered as evidence and the lawyers were denied the right to choose their legal representatives, restricted instead to a special lawyer assigned by the prosecution,” Turanlı said. “All this unlawfulness aims to silence 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 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 lawyer who defends terrorists should not be a terrorist,” he had said.

President Erdoğan’s call had come after protests over the death of lawyer Ebru Timtik last month 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.

In a press statement on Saturday the ÇHD condemned the detentions and stated that the lawyers were being questioned on their legal work.

According to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to “defending the defenders,” the questions included the types of cases the lawyers take, the number of Gülen movement-related cases they had and the way their clients pay them.

In a tweet, Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: “Ankara police reportedly arrest up to 60 on suspicion of being a ‘FETÖ [a derogatory acronym used by Ankara to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization] lawyers’ structure.’ Hard not to see this as a part of the govt aim to bring the legal profession under control and target lawyers on the basis of which clients they represent.”

In a move seen by critics as a bid to subjugate lawyers, the Turkish parliament approved a bill in July that enabled the establishment of multiple bar associations.

The critics fear a blacklisting of lawyers who are not aligned with the government as the country has already jailed 570 lawyers and prosecuted 1,480 in total since the abortive 2016 coup, according to a UN report.

In a 2018 report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had highlighted “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.”

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