International criticism over the arrest of scores of Turkish lawyers

The authorities accuse the lawyers of supporting the Gülen network, which has been blamed for the 2016 failed coup.  In fact, the lawyers’ offence was doing their job representing their clients. For HRW, it is dangerous to equate “lawyers with the profile of those they are defending”. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also expressed concern.

Ankara (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Human rights organisations and Turkish and international lawyers’ groups have slammed the arrest of scores of lawyers in Turkey, whose "fault" is to carry out their duty representing people accused of involvement in the failed coup of the summer of 2016.

Last week, the Ankara State Prosecutor’s Office ordered the detention of 60 people, including 48 lawyers and others in the legal sector, accused of supporting the network of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, considered the coup’s mastermind.

According to the charge sheet, the suspects were part of a structure within the Gülenist network which sought to “steer investigations in favour of the group under the guise of attorney activities”, the Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

Yesterday all the lawyers arrested, except one, remained in custody and were questioned on several occasions about their relationships to colleagues and clients.

“Equating lawyers with the profile of those they are defending is a really, really dangerous path to go down, and it absolutely contravenes the principles of what the role and function of a lawyer is,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al-Monitor.

According to HRW, the lawyers are being held in small and poorly ventilated cells, at risk of contagion from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, at a time of when the COVID-19 outbreak is spreading in Ankara.

The Ankara Bar Association released a statement Tuesday alleging that the lawyers’ rights had been violated during their arrest.

The Istanbul Bar Association described the arrests as intimidation, related to the execution of their duties as lawyers, which is to represent their clients accused of Gülen links.

“A lawyer cannot be identified with their client,” the association said. “Intimidation which hopes to restrict the lawyers’ duty ... will impact the public as much as lawyers and gradually destroy confidence in justice.”

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also expressed concern, saying the arrests breached Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law.

“Lawyers should never be arrested or sanctioned for representing their clients, or identified with their clients causes,” said Roisin Pillay, Director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.

This attack against lawyers is not the first of its kind in Turkey, where numerous lawyers are on a hunger strike to protest violations and abuses.

In late August, Ebru Timitik succumbed after almost 250 days on hunger strike in prison. She had been convicted of belonging to a terrorist organisation.