Meetings with Turkish Lawyers in Istanbul – Report by Richard Harvey

Chair of Garden Court International and member of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Richard Harvey, recently met with lawyers in Turkey to discuss the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of Kurdish and Turkish lawyers on terrorism charges. He has kindly given us permission to reproduce his report into these meetings here.

Further addenda to his report can be downloaded here.

REPORT OF MEETINGS WITH TURKISH LAWYERS

ISTANBUL 24-25 FEBRUARY 2013

BY RICHARD HARVEY[1]

Garden Court Chambers
57-60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London WC2A 3LJ

INTRODUCTION

  1. Having read many recent reports of mass arrests of lawyers, trade union leaders and other human rights defenders in Turkey, I arranged to meet with a number of lawyers during my recent visit to Istanbul.  I am particularly grateful for the assistance of Mr. Thomas Schmidt, Secretary General of ELDH,[2] to Ms. Adrie van de Streek, Managing Director of L4L,[3] and to Ms. Ayse Bingol for arranging these meetings.
  2. The history of the Turkish government’s targeting of criminal defence lawyers has been well documented by ELDH, L4L, IADL, Haldane and others.  My purpose was to learn about the most recent developments following the mass arrests of 85 human rights defenders, including 15 lawyers, on 18 January 2013.
  3. I met on 24 February 2013 with Mr. Ramazan Demir, who represents a number of the recently arrested lawyers who have been denied bail, and with Ms. Esra Salmanli, of Platform for a Free Defence (SOP).   On 25 February I was invited to the offices of ÇHD, the Progressive Lawyers Association (www.chd.org.tr), where I met with Ms. Elvan Olkun, Ms. Ilknur Alcan (Istanbul ÇHD branch); Eda Asli Seran (ÇHD International Secretariat) and Asli Takanay (ÇHD volunteer).

The following report is based on these meetings.  I attach as Appendix A the translations of various sections of Turkish Criminal Procedure Code and other legal provisions important for an understanding of the matters complained of.

INFORMATION RECEIVED

  1. All the lawyers I met with stated that highly prejudicial statements were made by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in speeches following these arrests, in which he has condemned as terrorists those who provide legal representation of those accused of terrorism.
  2. Beginning at 4:00 am on 18 January 2013, ÇHD’s Istanbul and Ankara branch offices were raided by Turkish police, in violation of Article 118 of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code Number 5271.[4]  The People’s Law Office (an independent law firm defending the basic rights of the oppressed) and many lawyers’ homes were also raided.  Searches and detentions began at 04.00 AM.  The searches further violated the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code law as they began without prosecuting officials in attendance and the Istanbul Bar Association was not informed about the searches until over an hour after they began.[5]
  3. Lawyers’ computers and other attorney-client privileged work product were seized, including case files for which the police appeared to be looking specifically.  The police also seized lists members of ÇHD, files on the struggle of some workers to whom ÇHD had given advice and files on the assassination of Hrant Dink.[6]
  4. 15 lawyers, all members of ÇHD, were arrested and taken into custody.  These included ÇHD Istanbul Branch President Taylan Tanay, ÇHD Ankara Branch Executive N.Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı, and executives Güçlü Sevimli, Güray Dağ, Gülvin Aydın, former ÇHD branch Efkan Bolaç and ÇHD members Ebru Timtik, Barkın Timtik, Naciye Demir, Günay Dağ and Şükriye Erden.
  5. All were assaulted by the police in the course of their arrests and Taylan Tanay was taken forcibly to the ÇHD office from the People’s Law Office, above which he lived.  Former ÇHD branch president Serhan Arıkanoğlu and ÇHD member Zeki Rüzgar were arrested when they came to the Court House of their own free will to give statements to the public prosecutor.
  6. Those arrested were forcibly compelled to provide blood and saliva samples, despite the fact that no probable cause had been shown that such samples were relevant to any ongoing criminal investigation [again, in violation of Turkish law].  The doctors involved in procuring these samples by force have been reported for violation of medical ethics.
  7. In response to these arrests, ÇHD President Selçuk Kozağaçlı, who was abroad in Syria at the time, issued a public statement condemning the arrests and announcing his intention to return to Turkey despite the arrest warrant that awaited him.  When he arrived at Ataturk Airport, he was arrested and then denied bail because he was considered by the police to be a “flight risk,” despite having flown back to Turkey knowing he would be arrested.
  8. Three lawyers (Güray Dağ, Efkan Bolaç and Gülvin Aydın) were released by the Court on 21st January after four days in custody.  At the time of writing, nine of the arrested lawyers remain in custody on vague charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.  The lawyers’ client files have not been returned and countless clients’ civil rights have thus been compromised.
  9. When a group of lawyers went to the court to file an application for the release of the lawyers under arrest, police in full riot gear attacked them.  Ramazan Demir was stomped on the ground by police until he lost consciousness.  He and other lawyers required hospital treatment and he showed me the photographs of these injuries received in the course of trying to do his legal duty to represent his clients.
  10. It is not yet clear when, or indeed whether, the detained lawyers will be released before trials which, if they ever take place, may take many months or even years to come to court.
  11. There is a demonstration planned for 5 April to demand the release of the detained lawyers.  I asked whether sending international legal observers might be helpful, instancing the ways in which such observers have been used in past situations, e.g., wearing conspicuous jackets emblazoned with the words “INTERNATIONAL LEGAL MONITORING GROUP” or some such.  The immediate response was that they didn’t expect a violent response from the police on that occasion.  I pointed out that the value of international observers was not limited to situations where state violence was anticipated; it sends a message to governments that state violence is not to be tolerated.  And if it doesn’t occur, it is another reason to claim it as a victory for non-violent direct action for human rights.  They thought that was an idea worthy of consideration.
  12. The international legal community has responded strongly with many statements of condemnation and plans by a number of groups to send investigative missions.  The President of the Law Society of England & Wales wrote a strongly worded letter to President Erdogan on 8 February.[7]  Statements calling for the release of the ÇHD lawyers have been issued by IADL;[8] ELDH; Haldane; and FIDH.

I attach as Appendix B (download as pdf) a copy of the letter of protest sent on 28 January 2013 to President Abdullah Gul, by L4L, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Fair Trial Watch.

CONCLUSIONS

My first thought in relation to the struggle which confronts our colleagues in Turkey is that they not only need Lawyers for Lawyers; with each successive wave of repression, they need Lawyers for Lawyers for Lawyers.  And so, ad infinitum. Tactical considerations for future solidarity actions might include writing to and soliciting statements of concern from:

  1. UNHRC
  2. Appropriate UN Special Rapporteurs, bearing in mind the violation (torture, etc) of rights not only of lawyers (independence of lawyers and judges) but of their clients, (freedom of association (trade unions, etc) and expression (journalists and others seeking to expose injustices committed by the state)).
  3. European Parliamentarians
  4. European Union bodies
  5. Council of Europe Rapporteurs
  6. OSCE Member States
  7. Other human rights groups

Respectfully submitted

Richard J. Harvey

27 February 2013


[1] Chair, Garden Court International; www.GardenCourtInternational.com; Bureau member, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, www.iadllaw.org; executive committee member Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, www.haldane.org.

[2] European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, www.eldh.eu

[3] Lawyers for Lawyers / Advocaten voor Advocaten, www.advocatenvooradvocaten.nl

[4]  (prohibition on searches of private dwellings or business places during night hours)

[5] Contrary to Article 130(1) of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code Number 5271 (Search and Seizure in Attorneys’ Offices) and Article 58 of the Attorneyship Law.

[6] Turkish-Armenian journalist and editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, assassinated in Istanbul in January 2007 shortly after the premiere of the documentary Screamers, featuring an interview with him on Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.  His assassin was later photographed flanked by smiling Turkish police officers, posing with him in front of the Turkish flag. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrant_Dink

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