Spare a thought for Turkey

May 1st, 2018

Mapula Sedutla – Editor

 During the National Association of Democratic Lawyers annual general meeting and conference, Gauteng Regional Director of Turquoise Harmony Institute, Atilla Dag, made a presentation on the atrocities being experienced by Turkish citizens, including legal professionals.

After a failed coup attempt in July 2016 many lawyers have been arrested because their clients were people who had links to the Gülen movement, which has been accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in 2016. The movement has denied any involvement. Some lawyers were arrested for representing their detained colleagues. After the failed coup, Turkey was under a state of emergency.

According to official reports, 1 525 lawyers have been prosecuted, of which, 578 were arrested and currently being held in pre-trial detention, while 99 lawyers have been sentenced. Mr Dag noted that legal professionals have been subjected to ill treatment, torture and excessive solitary confinement. State officials have been granted immunity for acts of ill treatment and torture committed during their scope of duties under state of emergency decrees.

Mr Dag’s presentation goes on further to state that receiving legal assistance in Turkey is near impossible. President of the Jurists Association (Hukukçular Derneği), a pro-government group, Mehmet Sarı, publicly said that the thousands of people who have been accused of coup plotting by the government, do not have the right to a defence. Previous President of the Istanbul Bar Association, Ümit Kocasakal, has also exhibited a similar attitude.

The torture cases in Turkey’s detention centers cited in a New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled ‘A Blank Check: Turkey’s Post-Coup Suspension of Safeguards against Torture’, include several incidents in which lawyers were prevented from stopping the torture of their clients while in police custody.

Lawyers are also not exempt from torture while in police custody. The cases of lawyers, who have been physically assaulted by the police, are another part of an intimidation campaign conducted by the Turkish government against lawyers and human rights defenders. Lawyers who are members of the Contemporary Jurists Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği, or ÇHD) wanted to make a public statement in front of the Istanbul Courthouse ahead of a criminal case in which some lawyers were tried. The police attacked the lawyers who were determined to make a statement.

Mr Dag also reported that many judges were arrested because of their rulings. 4 463 judges have been prosecuted and suspended. Over 2 400 judges are currently being held in pre-trial detention, including High Court judges and two Constitutional Court judges.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has ruled since 2003, has called for early elections in June, which is seen as a tactic to hold on to power a year earlier than scheduled. The elections, which were originally set to take place in November 2019 will be held on 24 June.

  • See p 5 for a full report on the National Association of Democratic Lawyers annual general meeting.


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This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (May) DR 3.

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