Last update: 20-Oct-2020 15:39
19 October 2020:
Turkey dismisses 11 judges, prosecutors over Gülen links
Turkey’s key judicial body responsible for appointments and other personnel-related issues in the judiciary on Monday sacked 11 judges and prosecutors accused of links to the Gülen movement, a religious group accused of organising the July 2016 coup attempt.
The Turkish Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors (HSYK) reached the decision following a meeting of the body’s general assembly, Birgün newspaper reported. The judges and prosecutors are accused of contact, cohesion and liaison with the Gülen movement, it said.
As of January of this year, over 3,900 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed since the failed putsch in 2016, according to Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK).
23 September 2020:
6 Turkish lawyers arrested on charges of ‘filing criminal complaints of torture’
Six lawyers out of 39 who appeared in court on Tuesday after 12 days in police custody have been arrested on the questionable charges of “filing criminal complaints of torture” and “contacting human rights defenders.”
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Sept. 11 issued detention warrants for 60 lawyers on terror charges. Thirty-nine of the lawyers were taken to court yesterday with a request for their arrest. The court has remanded six lawyers to pretrial detention and put the others under house arrest and judicial supervision.
The lawyers were detained based on witness statements alleging that they served as lawyers on cases of defendants affiliated with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, after a July 15, 2016 coup attempt that the Turkish government has accused the movement of orchestrating.
The lawyers were brought to Ankara Courthouse in plastic handcuffs on September 14 for an extension of their period of detention. Ten bar associations, in particular those in Istanbul and Ankara, harshly criticized the detention of the lawyers.
Fifty-five lawyers detained on Tuesday in Izmir are currently being interrogated by the local prosecutor, and there are concerns that police operations against attorneys across Turkey will continue.
Accusation of filing a criminal complaint about torture
The investigation into the lawyers began in 2018 under orders from the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, with the suspects under surveillance for the past two years.
According to a statement issued by the prosecutor, the lawyers mobilized human rights defenders, especially well-known lawyers and international law platforms, against the violation of their clients’ rights. In particular, filing a criminal complaint about alleged torture was accepted as terrorist activity.
The lawyers were also accused of committing the crime of taking instructions from a terrorist organization due to the cases of clients dismissed by decree-laws under a two-year state of emergency declared after the failed coup, and users of the ByLock mobile phone app, which the government alleges was favored by members of the Gülen movement, as well as their appeals with the Constitutional Court and constant objections to the court and prosecutor’s decisions.
The prosecutor also claimed that the lawyers tried to dissuade people who wanted to take advantage of the active regret law and did not accept payment from some of their clients. Although the charges against the lawyers are related to their work as lawyers, the prosecutor described their efforts as a crime.
The accusation of targeting police personnel
The lawyers’ allegations of torture while in custody and their criminal complaints were also described as “targeting the police personnel who actively fight against the Gülenists.” The family members of some lawyers who are under arrest were presented to the court by the prosecution as indications that the lawyers were members of a terrorist organization.
As six of the lawyers appearing in court on Tuesday were arrested and the others were put under house arrest, it is now impossible for them to engage in their profession because they cannot go to the courthouse due to their confinement at home.
Why are lawyers being targeted in Turkey?
The arrest of dozens of lawyers, the death of Ebru Timtik, an attorney who was on a death fast to support her demand for a fair trial, and the establishment of pro-government alternative bar associations all took place in Turkey in September.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the target of corruption operations in 2013. As a result, he has been restructuring the judicial system ever since by establishing new courts, reducing the authority of judges and prosecutors, and changing the number of members of the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK). However, a coup attempt in July 2016 was the breaking point.
After the failed 2016 coup, 3,926 judges and prosecutors were summarily dismissed over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara blames for masterminding the abortive putsch. Nearly 2,000 of them were arrested.
The last independent component of the judiciary was the lawyers. Particularly in terrorism cases, the work of lawyers was the target of the pro-government media. Seventy-five lawyers in Ankara and İzmir were detained in September. Rumor has it that lawyers in Istanbul are the next target.
According to data compiled by The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, which focuses on violations of lawyers’ rights, 487 lawyers were arrested in Turkey in 2016 and 2017. According to 2019 data, 143 lawyers are still in prison. With the recent police operations against lawyers in 2020, the number has now increased to 200.
New bar associations established
The second attempt of the Erdoğan government to move against lawyers was to establish new bar associations, called “Alternative Bar Associations.” A recently passed law says that any group of at least 2,000 lawyers can set up their own bar association.
This is possible in five provinces in terms of the number of lawyers, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.
Lawyer Ali Yıldız, one of the founders of The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, explains the purpose of the arrangement.
“The Alternative Bar Association law was passed by the parliament, but it was announced that pro-government lawyers could gather 2,000 signatures only in Istanbul. An important aim of the regulation was to change the delegate balance in the elections for the presidency of the Turkish Bar Association [TBB]. Elections for provincial bar association will be held in October. In 2021 the president of the TBB will be elected. The government has failed to establish an alternative bar, but it may be trying to influence the TBB election with the mass arrest of lawyers. At this point, it is worth remembering that there are three ongoing criminal investigations into the board members of the Istanbul, Ankara, and Diyarbakir bar associations. Another important goal seems to intimidate bar associations and prevent them from reporting serious violations of rights such as the torture and enforced disappearances of recent years. The government, which has absolute authority over the judiciary, wants to take control of the bar associations.”
A sufficient number of signatures could only be collected in Istanbul
Bars can be called the last effective institution to fight against human rights violations in Turkey. The Ankara and Diyarbakır bar associations in particular have published detailed reports on torture and enforced disappearances.
Since detainees have trouble finding a lawyer, especially in mass detentions on terrorism charges, bars are in an essential position in Turkey. In this case, the prosecutor’s office requests a lawyer from the local bar association. If the prosecutor requests a lawyer from a pro-government bar association, the risk exists that victims will be left vulnerable. Hundreds of lawyers highlighted this risk by protesting the alternative bar association legislation with a march from İstanbul to Ankara.
The court is attached to the palace
While the independence of the judiciary in Turkey was discussed within the framework of the alternative bar associations and the arrest of the lawyers, a symbolic event occurred over the weekend.
Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Yüksel Kocaman visited Erdoğan at the presidential palace with his bride immediately after their wedding. The visit of Kocaman, who received a wedding gift from Erdoğan, has become the subject of discussion as an indication of the current state of judicial independence, or lack thereof.
60 jurists sign joint letter to address Turkey’s detention of lawyers
Sixty jurists issued a letter on the detention of dozens of lawyers in police raids on Tuesday.
The letter is as follows:
On the detention of 56 lawyers, 7 legal interns, 4 dismissed judges and 1 law school graduate in Ankara, Turkey
Through the new “alternative bar associations” legislation and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s own words — “Those who serve as the lawyers of terrorists should not act like terrorists themselves. If they do, there must be a price to pay” — which he said in the presence of judges and prosecutors at the opening ceremony of the new judicial year, the Turkish government had already signaled that a new phase in the persecution of lawyers was about to start. Only a few days after President Erdogan’s speech, on Friday, 11 September 2020, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor ordered the detention of 56 lawyers, seven legal interns, four purged judges, and a law school graduate for “membership in a terrorist organization.”
According to a report by the state-run Anadolu News Agency, their detentions were sought for no oﬀence other than representing people whom the government considers dissidents and accuses of involvement in “terrorism.”
The detained lawyers will reportedly be held in custody for at least 12 days, according to information provided by pro-bono lawyers who reached out to the public prosecutor, and will not be allowed speak with anybody, in violation of the Code on Criminal Procedure. It has also been reported that during the detention and search of the lawyers’ residences procedural laws were violated, and the lawyers were handcuﬀed from behind and subjected to ill-treatment.
It is a widely accepted fact that in Turkey, terror charges are political in nature and are used to repress, intimidate, and silence any opposition. Those who are arrested, detained, and convicted are subjected to such unlawful actions, contrary to what the government has been suggesting, only because of their political views and their criticism of the government.
In Turkey, lawyers have been arrested and prosecuted on a massive scale since an attempted coup on 15 July 2016. It all started with the arrest of the president of the Konya Bar Association and has continued since then without pause. To date, more than 1,600 lawyers have been arrested and in excess of 600 of them have been imprisoned. Four hundred forty-one lawyers have, on the other hand, been convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization”.
The mass arrests are carried out to intimidate and deter lawyers as they serve a critical purpose in the fight against various unlawful actions on the part of the police and the judiciary, including torture and ill-treatment. The persecution of lawyers facilitates the torture and ill-treatment of detained persons and prevents them from demanding that their fundamental human rights be respected.
The fact that the arrests in question have taken place in Ankara, which has the highest number of COVID-19 infections, is another cause for concern. This has occurred at a time when the Council of Europe and UN human rights bodies have stressed that custodial measures such as arrest and detention should not be carried out during the pandemic unless such measures are absolutely necessary.
According to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments shall ensure that lawyers:
These safeguards are not a professional luxury granted to lawyers, but a necessity to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. Hence, criminal investigations into lawyers are to be carried out under a specific procedure that involves additional safeguards as long as there is not a situation of “flagrante delicto.”
As established by the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Alparslan Altan vs Turkey and Hakan Bas vs Turkey, the Turkish judiciary’s interpretation and application of flagrante delicto violate the principle of legality and the right to liberty. Accordingly, the detentions of lawyers in police raids, which has become the new normal in Turkey since July 15, 2016, is a flagrant violation of the law.
The detention of 68 lawyers and jurists, the majority of whom are women, is an important part of the objective to silence lawyers. Remaining silent about this will deprive all citizens of their rights and liberties.
We, as lawyers and jurists, hereby declare that we will not remain silent.
We condemn in the strongest possible terms these unlawful raids and demand the release of our colleagues.
Lawyers on Trial in Istanbul
(09/158) Lawyers on Trial in Istanbul…
On September 15, 2020, Penal Department No 16 of the Supreme Court approved the sentenced given to 17 lawyers, all members of Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) and Peoples’ Law Office (HHB); and reversed the verdicts against 3 lawyers (Barkın Timtik, Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Ezgi Çakır). 20 lawyers from ÇHD and HHB were sentenced to jail penalties by Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No 37 on March 20, 2019.
The Supreme Court ruled that there is no ground to decide on verdicts against lawyer Ebru Timtik, who died on 238th day of her death fast on August 27, 2020. The Supreme Court ruled that 18 years and 9 months of sentence given to Barkın Timtik on the charge of ‘establishing and leading an illegal organisation’ should be re-evaluated together with another case against her on the charge of ‘being an illegal organisation member’.
Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No 37 has sentenced Ayşegül Çağatay, Yağmur Ereren, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Yaprak Türkmen to 3 years and 9 months each and Ahmet Mandacı and Zehra Özdemir to 3 years 1 month and 15 days each, on the charge of ‘knowingly and willingly aiding an illegal organisation’.
Lawyers from ÇHD and HHB were detained on November 8, 2017 and were arrested on November 13, 2017. The court has released 17 lawyers on September 14, 2018 however, they were arrested again upon prosecutor’s appeal on September 16 and 17, 2018.
Ankara prosecutor orders arrest of 60 legal professionals in Gülen investigation
The Ankara police’s anti-terror unit has started an operation on Friday to detain 48 lawyers and 12 other legal professionals, following the Turkish capital’s chief public prosecutor issuing warrants, his office said in a statement.
The legal professionals are wanted on terrorism charges over their alleged ties to FETÖ, the name Turkey uses for the followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen who it holds responsible for the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
The 48 lawyers, 7 intern lawyers, 4 dismissed judges and one law school graduate in question had taken on as clients people who were facing trial for FETÖ membership at various levels, “upon orders from the organisation,” the statement said, without revealing any evidence for the allegations.
The suspects are accused of skewing the investigations “in favour of FETÖ under the guise of lawyerly activity,” the statement said, based on informant statements, communications surveillance “and other evidence obtained.” Anonymous informants and secret witnesses are one of the most often used sources for launching cases and convicting defendants in Turkey.
“Hard not to see this as a part of (the Turkish government’s) aim to bring the legal profession under control,” Human Rights Watch Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said in a tweet, “and target lawyers on the basis of which clients they represent.”
Meanwhile, daily Milliyet reported 22 arrests in another operation to purge remaining FETÖ members from the armed forces. Evidence against the detainees included the use of instant messaging program ByLock. Several among them were military academy students. Eleven other people connected to the Turkish armed forces were detained in a separate operation based in the central Anatolian Konya province.
The aftermath of July 15 saw more than 130,000 public servants dismissed in waves of purges. Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) completed investigations into 688 members of the judiciary in January, signalling a new wave, while it announced a total of 3,926 judges and prosecutors dismissed since the failed putsch.
Turkish police attack mourners of lawyer Ebru Timtik in Istanbul
Turkish police on Friday attacked mourners gathered at an Alevi cultural centre in Istanbul to pay their respects to lawyer Ebru Timtik, who died on Thursday night after more than 230 days on hunger strike in her fight for a fair trial.
Police user pepper spray and fired rubber bullets on crowds looking to make their way to the city’s Gazi cemetery, where Timtik was being laid to rest, Evrensel newspaper reported.
Timtik died in an Istanbul hospital on Thursday on the 238th day of her hunger strike.
The lawyer was arrested in 2017 over terrorism charges, related to her clients who faced similar charges over membership of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). She was sentenced to 13 years and 6 months in prison in 2019 and had been on a hunger strike along with seven other lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) since February 3 this year.
Police on Friday took the body of Timtik straight from the forensic medical department to the Alevi cultural centre in Istanbul’s Gazi district to stop lawyers from her bar association and friends carrying her there.
A group of lawyers on Friday held a ceremony in front of the Istanbul Bar Association, Evrensel said.
“Everyone should know that this death could have been prevented,” Istanbul Bar Association head Mehmet Durakoğlu said during the ceremony. “But they didn’t…we will continue our struggle. While wishing for God’s mercy on her, we promise that will be defenders of just trials.”
Timtik and 17 other lawyers from the association were put on trial over falsified and otherwise inadmissible evidence, according to the ÇHD, which maintains the case against the lawyers was based on a piece of evidence that had carried over from another investigation in 2013, and the digital file had not been copied or preserved appropriately.
A forensic medical report dated July 30 stated that prison was detrimental to Timtik’s health. But a judge ruled her continued detention was justified as she posed a “flight risk.”
A large poster of Timtik was unfurled in front of the Bar Association in Istanbul on Friday, prompting reactions from the government.
“It is unacceptable for the bar association to be the backyard for illegal and marginal formations,” Deutsche Welle Turkish cited Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül as saying on Saturday.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said he condemned the bar association for “hanging the photograph of a member of a terrorist organisation,” and vowed to launch a criminal complaint against the group.
The poster of Timtik has since been removed, a move Soylu claimed was carried out by the police.
But the Istanbul Bar Association released a written statement on Saturday that the move to hang the poster of Timtik was done “despite the association” and the decision to remove the poster was also made by them, Deutsche Welle said.
Turkish bar association files complaint against Islamist magazine over caliphate call
A Turkish bar association has filed a criminal complaint against Islamist magazine Gerçek Hayat over the publication’s call for a Islamic caliphate, Diken news site reported on Monday. The move by the Ankara Bar Association follows weekly magazine’s latest issue on the reconversion of Hagia Sophia, which featured an explicit mobilisation call in the name of a religious state under the leadership of an Islamic steward.
“If not now, when? If not you, then who? Come together for the caliphate,’’ the magazine said.
The criminal complaint, levelled at the magazine’s editor-in-chief and Islamist pro-government Yeni Akit columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak, who shared the magazine cover on social media, accuses the publication of inciting the public to hate and enmity and provocation to violate the law.
On Friday, Turkey reopened Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia as a mosque in a ceremony attended by tens of thousands.
The move fulfils a long-time call by the country’s Islamists, who see the former seat of the Greek Orthodox Church as a symbol of a clash between Christianity and Islam. Gerçek Hayat magazine is part of the Albayrak media group, owned by the brother of Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak.
10 July 2020:
Turkey suspends 26 judges and prosecutors over alleged Gülen links
Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) has decided to suspend 26 judges and prosecutors, citing links to the faith-based Gülen movement, the T24 news website reported on Friday. The suspended judges and prosecutors could be disbarred, pending the results of an investigation.
The Turkish government alleges that the Gülen movement was behind a failed coup in July 2016, although the movement strongly denies any involvement in it. The HSK disbarred some 4,500 judges and prosecutors following the abortive putsch.