16 September 2013
A delegation of six leading barristers and solicitors from the UK has arrived in Istanbul to observe the sixth hearing of a major counterterrorism case.
The delegation, which includes international human rights barristers Margaret Owen OBE, Hugo Charlton, and Mark Jones of St Ives Chambers, as well as Tooks Chambers’ Bronwen Jones and Law Society Human Rights Committee members Tony Fisher and Ali Has, will join several dozen international observers from across Europe to witness the trial of 46 Kurdish lawyers taking place on Tuesday 17 September.
The observers will witness the sixth hearing in what has been condemned by human rights activists as an unlawful and political mass trial. The lawyers have been accused of supporting terrorism and being members of an illegal organisation, having acted as legal representatives for imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan. Some had not even met him in person. It is for this work that the lawyers are being persecuted.
The hearing comes amidst an ongoing crisis for the Turkish government, with anti-government protesters clashing with police in the centre of Istanbul overnight. Summer protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park rocked the Turkish government’s reputation after it was seriously criticised over its response and the excessive use of force by riot police. Six people have so far been killed in the clashes.
The trial itself has been widely criticised by legal monitors, human rights organisations and international lawyers’ associations for breaching the European Convention on Human Rights and failing to uphold UN principles on the rights of the lawyer, which says that a lawyer should be able to work without being associated with the crimes of their client.
Furthermore, monitoring of previous hearings has revealed a litany of abuses on the part of the Turkish judiciary in the prosecution of these lawyers, including illegal wiretapping of confidential lawyer-client meetings and other forms of covert surveillance, as well as excessive pre-trial detention.
Tony Fisher, member of the Law Society of England and Wales, which has already written a formal letter to Prime Minister Erdogan expressing its concern about the trial, says, “The continued monitoring of this trial by the international legal community is essential if there is to be any hope that due process will be followed and the fundament rights of the defendants as lawyers are to be respected.”
The trial is one of dozens of mass political trials of Kurdish intellectuals, media workers, trade unionists, academics and politicians. To date, and despite ongoing negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdish movement to end the thirty-year conflict, more than 8,000 people have been arrested as part of Turkey’s attack on Kurdish civil society, with the majority facing terrorism charges.
Turkey’s counterterrorism operations have led to the country holding the world’s largest number of prisoners convicted of terrorism and the country has been widely criticised for using the dangerously broad anti-terror law to quell anti-government dissent, in particular with the arrests of journalists and media workers.
Margaret Owen, who has monitored the trial from the beginning and will be blogging about her experience in Istanbul, says, “This trial has to be observed in the context of the peace process. The irony is that while the AKP claims to be talking peace with the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Ocalan, it continues with these purely political trials aimed to crush and destroy Kurdish civil society activism and imprison on such flimsy dubious grounds, lawyers who are simply doing their job.”
For further information contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Fax: 020 7263 0596
Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Conor Murphy MP, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Mark Thomas