Turkish justice system cast into major doubt

This article was originally published in the Morning Star


by David Morgan

Grave concerns are mounting over a mass trial of lawyers in Istanbul who are being charged and tried for terrorism offences.

The 47 lawyers in the dock had represented Kurdish leader and founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party Abdullah Ocalan (pictured) who has been in jail since 1999.

Outside observers fear that the lawyers are actually being tried simply for carrying out their work as lawyers.

Evidence against them had been gathered by tapping their private meetings with Ocalan – a flagrant breach of confidentiality – and the defendants were not given full access to the prosecution case against them, impeding the preparation of their cases.

The trial seems to have been initiated as part of a wider clampdown on Kurdish opposition parties and organisations launched by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government immediately following the last national election two years ago.

This election saw the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) make significant electoral gains, suggesting that a political motivation was behind the trials rather than any quest for justice.

The backdrop in Turkey is one of widespread repression of suspected members of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), which the Turkish government characterises as the “urban wing” of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party. Many trade union members and journalists have also been arrested.

Thousands of suspects remain in detention, awaiting trial at special “heavy penal courts” in a number of Turkish cities.

Many of the suspects were taken into custody in mass arrests, adding extra weight to the accusations of political motives. The lawyers, for example, were all arrested at the same time, alongside the arrest of other professional groups.

A group of leading British lawyers, having recently returned from observing the latest session of the mass trial, have briefed British parliamentarians on their concerns.

They have flagged up how the competence of the court to try the accused was brought into question by the appointment of a judge who had helped to draw up the prosecution case, adding that the conduct of the trial was farcical and chaotic, giving no confidence that justice was going to be done.

They further explained that the Turkish legal code details quite specific technicalities that are required to initiate proceedings against a lawyer, but that they had not been followed in this case.

The meeting of observers and MPs also heard evidence from campaigning journalist Barry White who said that reporters in Turkey suffered similar treatment to the lawyers.

They were often similarly rounded up in mass arrests and held in detention for long pre-trial periods.

The Turkish authorities need to respond urgently to independent observers’ serious concerns if they want the international community, and their European Union neighbours in particular, to have any confidence in the country’s justice system.

Turkey appears to fall far short of what is normally expected of a legal system in a democratic country that supposedly abides by international norms.

But there is one way that Turkey can end these trials and avoid all the criticisms about its flawed legal system – it can open negotiations with the Kurds to resolve the conflict that is at the root of the problem.

Prime Minister Recep Erdogan needs to stop playing politics with the Kurdish issue and let peace talks with Ocalan be resumed as a matter of urgency.

The meeting, which took place on November 27 at Westminster, was hosted by Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams and was attended by MPs Mary Glindon and Pat Doherty, as well as Lord Rea. Representatives of the International Bar Association and the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers also participated in the discussions.

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