Turkey, not a good place to be a lawyer or a judge

February 7, 2019

On 6 February 2019 is became known that a public prosecutor has sought the maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each of 33 lawyers on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to their alleged links to the faith-based civic Gülen movement, the T24 news website reported on Tuesday. On Tuesday the trial of 53 defendants, 52 of whom are lawyers, continued at the Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court.

[Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown as a result of which more than 150,000 people were removed from state jobs while in excess of 50,000 others were jailed and some 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.]

According to data compiled by independent monitoring site The Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative, 555 lawyers have been arrested since July 15, 2016 and 1,546 were under prosecution as of January 24, 2019. Two hundred sixteen lawyers have been sentenced to a total of 1,361 years in prison. Some of the arrested lawyers were reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment. Fourteen of the detained or arrested lawyers are presidents or former presidents of provincial bar associations.

A report titled “Incarceration of Turkish Lawyers: En Masse Arrests and Convictions (2016-2018)” previously revealed that lawyers have particularly been targeted simply due to the identity or affiliations of their clients, all this spite of the basic principles of the independence of lawyers. [see e.g. https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/basic-principles/ and also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/09/independence-of-the-legal-profession-subject-of-side-event-on-16-march-2017/]

Judiciary

And it is not limited to lawyers. A Turkish court sentenced a judge who previously won an award for human rights to 10 years in prison over links to the network Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday. Murat Arslan, who has been detained for 22 months, was convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organisation, after prosecutors charged him with use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock, Anadolu said. Arslan has denied the charges and said any evidence that he had used the app was “fabricated”, Anadolu said.

The government says the outlawed app was widely used by followers of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the attempted coup that saw rogue soldiers commandeer tanks and aircraft, attacking parliament and killing some 250 unarmed civilians. The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a decision that prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/turkey-angry-after-pace-havel-prize-is-awarded-to-jailed-judge/]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/18/european-commission-states-that-turkey-is-taking-major-steps-away-from-the-eu/

Torture

In the meantime Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the 2018 winner of the Hessian Peace Prize for her work documenting human rights abuses in Turkey, said torture had become systematic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/05/turkish-human-rights-defender-and-forensic-doctor-sebnem-korur-fincanci-honoured/]

Korur Fincancı was one of more than 1,000 Turkish academics who signed a 2016 petition calling for peace after a two-year ceasefire between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down and security forces used tanks and artillery to crush attempts by the militants to seize towns and cities across the mainly Kurdish southeast. Now the head of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for signing the petition and for her contribution to a report prepared by her foundation on the Turkish military’s activities in the southeastern town of Cizre. 

……The figures show an alarming trend that Korur Fincancı said pointed to systematic rights violations. “In the year 2017, more than 5,000 people across Turkey applied for legal aid from the Human Rights Association on the basis that they’d been tortured. More than 500 applied to representatives of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey to be diagnosed … for torture,” she said.  The number of applicants remained high in 2018, with more than 2,600 people who said they had been tortured applying for legal aid and 558 applying for treatment in the first 11 months of the year.

Fincancı

….Korur Fincancı she said the fight against torture must extend beyong medical treatment to preventative measures, and that means educating the public.

…Meanwhile, security forces have opened 26,000 cases against suspects they say resisted arrest. “After police launch cases against them, people become hesitant to open (torture) cases … or the withdraw them. Thus the judiciary protects the police, the use of torture with legal repercussions becomes more entrenched, and the police believe they are doing their duty under this protection,” said the doctor.

With the introduction of emergency rule after the coup, the purge and arrest of public officials has come to be counted as part of a struggle against terrorism, providing another layer of protection for security officers who commit torture and other infractions. “And this arrangement applies to civilians – it’s the same as telling security officers we are in a state of civil war and their actions will be ignored,” Korur Fincancı said. “And that’s a very dangerous situation.

State of emergency

Anyway, ending the state of emergency in Turkey has not ended repressive rule under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Human Rights Watch observed on 17 January 2019 in its World Report 2019. Prolonged and arbitrary jailing of critics on bogus terrorism charges has become the norm in Turkey. Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2018 took place in a climate of media censorship and with some members of parliament and one presidential candidate jailed. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) retained control of a weakened parliament through a coalition. And with the election, in which Erdoğan was reelected, Turkey’s presidential system of governance, approved in a 2017 constitutional referendum, entered fully into force. “Any hope that the end of the state of emergency six month ago would mark a return to respect for human rights has been dashed,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Erdoğan government’s hounding of its critics and opponents has dismantled Turkey’s rule of law framework and turned justice on its head.

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/turkey-sentences-detained-judge-who-won-human-rights-award-to-10-years–anadolu-says-11141758
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/turkey-state-emergency-ends-not-repression
https://ahvalnews.com/torture/award-winning-rights-activist-says-torture-systematic-turkey

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