Kurdish Lawyers on Trial in Turkey: A Travesty of Justice

Press Statement, 24.09.2013

Six UK lawyers*) formed part of the 30-strong delegation of European human rights lawyers, from several countries, that, on the 17th September, observed, at the Silivri prison court, the 6th hearing of the trial of 45 Kurdish lawyers, who face criminal charges under Turkey’s anti-terror laws.

It has been 22 months since these lawyers were rounded up in dawn raids by Turkey’s anti-terror police. Throughout this period many of the defendants have been held in pre-trial detention, without any reason being given. From time to time, some have been bailed, but 16 lawyers still remain incarcerated.

The next one-day hearing will not be until December 19th, but trials such as these could be prolonged so as to go on for many years.

All of the lawyers have acted for the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, held on the Imrali Island Prison since his capture in 1999. The arrested lawyers have two common characteristics, 1) their Kurdish ethnicity and 2) that they acted for Mr. Ocalan at various times since 1999.

We have been observing this trial since its first hearing in June, 2012 and have noted the serious flaws in the procedures that breach international and European standards of justice and fairness in trials, and relating to the rights and roles of lawyers. Our concerns relate both to the circumstances of the original arrests  as well as to the trial process itself.

The nub of the prosecution case against the lawyers is that they are members of a “leadership committee”, headed by Ocalan, which is affiliated to the KCK, a civil society movement regarded as the urban arm of the PKK. The PKK, founded by Ocalan, is a banned organisation, listed as promoting terrorism. The prosecution alleges that the lawyers took specific terrorist-linked orders from Ocalan and conveyed the same to the PKK.

We condemn the absence of due process, the administration of the Turkish justice system in general; and deplore the targeting of lawyers, who are simply carrying out the duties of their profession, as yet another means of destroying lawful Kurdish efforts to obtain their freedoms, their fundamental rights, in the cause of justice and of peace. The judiciary lacks independence and is incapable of delivering a fair verdict in this type of trial which is clearly a political one.

These are our particular concerns:

1.     The  judge failed to conduct any meaningful  cross examination of the defendants;

2.      The  prosecutor made no submissions to rebut the defences put forward;

3.      The fashion in which the alleged evidence against the lawyers has been gathered, including illegal searches of the lawyers offices and homes, the confiscation of confidential and privileged information belonging to other clients, and illegal intercepts of private and privileged communications between the lawyers, their clients, and their families;

4.     The entire evidence is based on subjective police opinion;

5.     The use of pre-trial detention, and the refusal of bail without any reasons being given;

6.     All the consultations the defendants held with their client have been recorded since 1999 and a member of the Turkish Ministry of Justice has been present since 2005;

7.     The constant adjournments at 3 month intervals of hearings that only last one day

8.     The court has dismissed without any reasoning, the defence request that Mr. Ocalan should be called as a witness and accordingly the prosecution should exercise its duty of gathering evidence that may assist the defence.

Lawyers throughout Turkey, Turkish as well as Kurdish, now feel intimidated by these trials where there is no presumption of innocence, and where lawyers can be identified with the alleged crimes of their client.

Today, Turkey’s prisons hold more than 10,000 political prisoners, who include politicians, mayors, academics, journalists, trade unionists, human rights activists. These detentions and these patently unfair political trials not only discredit the AKP government internationally and regionally, but also render questionable its real intentions regarding the current peace negotiations,

Turkey should dismiss these prosecutions and release all of its political detainees without delay. This will not only be just and fair but could  remove the tarnished image that stains Turkey for its apparent lack of regard for the rule of law.

It is of vital importance that international observers report on this political trial, and a UK delegation will return to Istanbul for the December 19th hearing.

Ali Has

Margaret Owen

Bronwen Jones

Hugo Charlton

Tony Fisher

Mark Jones

*) Margaret Owen OBE, barrister/Door Tenant, 9 Bedford Row Chambers, Tony Fisher – Solicitor/Member of the Law Society Human Rights Committee, Ali Has – Solicitor/Advocate, Hugo Charlton – Barrister, Bronwen Jones – Barrister and Mark Jones – Barrister. 

For information contact

Margaret Owen: Margie O director.wpd@gmail.com

Ali Has: Ali Has av.alihas@gmail.com

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign: Estella Schmid <estella24@tiscali.co.uk>

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