Law Society of England and Wales, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project, Lawyers for Lawyers and the Izmir Bar Association jointly organized the conference with the title: ‘Lawyers rights in peril: A discussion on the challenges to the integrity of the legal profession in Turkey amid the ongoing hungers strikes of the lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal’
The conference brought together lawyers, representatives from the Ankara, Izmir and Diyarbakir bar associations and international lawyers organizations including Lawyers Rights Watch (Canada) and the FBE, and rights defenders to explore and discuss the current situation of lawyers in Turkey and their increasing persecution; the proposed reform of the bar associations and the threats to their independence; the ex-officio investigations that have been started against the bar associations of Diyarbakir and Ankara; the Parole Act exceptions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current situation of the two lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği, ÇHD) who have been on a hunger strike for over 100 days.
The conference was in two parts.
Part 1, moderated by Tony Fisher, Law Society of England & Wales Human Rights Committee.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, Director of the IBA Human Rights Institute Key Note speaker introduced the theme. She addressed the problem of the rise of right wing populism as a response to globalism. Authoritarian regimes which do not protect the rule of law, and attack the free media. Human rights are abused in Turkey in the name of democracy because the government claims they were voted in. Populist leaders find scapegoats for what is going wrong. Gulensism is used as a cover for a power grab. Similar situation in South Africa, Malawi, Philippines and Hungary, where Orban has used covid19 as a power grab on the media. In the US Trump has denigrated the judicial system.
In Turkey there are mass trials, 4200 Judges and Prosecutors in detention, 634 of whom have been convicted and 500 administrative personnel have been dismissed. 34 lawyers’ associations have been shut down. The State of Emergency has been used against the justice system. There has been torture of lawyers.
There are now restrictions on how long a lawyer may spend with their client (law 6749), discussions between lawyers and their clients are tape recorded by the authorities, breaching legal professional privilege and confidentiality.
Panel Discussion: General introduction of the situation. Ministry of Religious Affairs blaming homosexuals and pre – marital sex for the spread of HIV. When bar associations complain the government moves against the, currently introducing changes to the electoral system for bar associations.
Ozkan Yucel of the Izmir Bar Association.
Lawyers in Izma are fighting fascism. After 9/11 security has been against freedom. Lawyers are the people who are raising tehir voices at the loss of freedoms. The government seeks to divide the big cities and divide the bar associations. The bar associations won’t let it happen, they will defend all lawyers. The consequence is that the bar association will be under investigation. They have tried to intervene in the trials of colleagues. Spoke about the hunger strikes.
Meltem Akyol Ankara Bar Association
- Government has started investigations of the bar association because it published a report about torture and took a case against the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
- The government is also introducing changes to the electoral procedure (proportional representation) to the bar associations without consultation. There are now multiple bar associations. At present every member is elected by their colleagues individually and not by a list as proposed with the government’s PR system. The government says that bar associations are political. If PR is introduced there will be discrimination, and access to justice will be denied.
- Independent lawyers will not be able to work with lawyers who support the government.
Cihan Ayain, Diyarbakir Bar Association.
- Reported on a chaotic situation, discrimination and crime rates are rising, there are very few fair trials. The ECHR functions very slowly and so there is little redress for human rights abuses.
- The Bar Association is under investigation for press statements, and have received a noitice from the prosecutor. Press statements are used in evidence. This has a “freezing effect” on the activities of the lawyers. In general Turkish people have become more introverted and try not to see what is going on. Even a social media post can be an excuse for raid of houses and arrests. It is not just happening in the Kurdish part of the country, but all over Turkey.
Part Two moderated by Irma Vandenberg.
Spoke about the altering of the law to prevent lawyers from doing human rights cases.
Didem Baydar Ünsal spoke about the hunger strikers, Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal.
Several Balikaya spoke about the dangers to lawyers who are in prison. The conditions are bad, and there is the risk of covid19.
This was followed by question and answers.
There were contributions from Catherine Morris and Brian Samuels of Lawyers Rights Watch (Canada) and individual Turkish lawyers.
We were alerted to the recent Ministry of Interior leaflet accusing lawyers who are in prison and on trial. The leaflet accuses the lawyers of being terrorists. The Supreme Court is still considering their cases and the verdict will come in 2 weeks. The Ministry is asking mainstream media to publish it. The leaflet is clearly designed to influence the decision in the trial.
- We are asked: to take a stand against this interference with the trial.to put pressure through the EU, our own governments and the UN, through a collective effort rather than individual letters.
- We were asked what are the best steps for escalation of advocacy, what steps within EU and UN?
- We were asked which countries have the best levers with Turkey who may have influence.
- How may we maximise the collective efforts of the human rights NGO’s?
Recommendations for action:
International legal community and the human rights NGO’s should take joint efforts to put pressure on the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior Affairs to cease using the terrorist label against lawyers, to cease interference in the electoral procedure of the bar associations, to cease investigations of bar associations for their statements and legal actions against the government.
Ask the EU and the UN to take action.
Call on UK Government with its special relationship with Turkey to put pressure on Turkey
There were 74 participants in the conference.
FBE participants included:
- Artur Wierzbicki, President of the FBE Human Rights Committee / Bar Association of Poznan, Poland
- Professor Sara Chandler, QC (Hon) Past President of the FBE and member of the Human Rights Commission
- Peter Hannenberg, Dean of the Rotterdam Bar and member of the Human Rights Commission
Report from Conference 11 June 2020, done by prof S. Chandler