Ten Turkish bar associations have rejected a Supreme Court of Appeals’ invitation to an opening ceremony of the new judicial year at the presidential palace complex in Ankara, Turkish media reported on Friday.
The bar associations of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Mugla, Antalya, Adana, Aydin, Ordu, Bursa, and Van provinces declined the invitation to the event that will be held at White Palace (Ak Saray) in Turkey’s capital of Ankara on September 2, 2019.
The associations responded to the invitation with written statements explaining their reasons for not attending the event.
They reportedly argued that their attendance to the new judicial year opening ceremony at the presidential palace would further damage the independence of the Turkish judiciary.
In a letter to the presidency of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals, the Istanbul association held forth that it could not attend the event at the Presidential complex because it went against “every teaching” related to law and justice.
“It will not be possible for us to accept your invitation due to the fact that attending the meeting in question, which will be held at the Presidential Congress and Culture Hall would mean rejecting all the teachings that we know about democracy, law, and justice,” they said.
Underlining that they will never give up their quest for justice, the association added: “We do not want to agree with the idea of celebrating the new judicial year at the venues of the executive body like a ritual when we should have taken steps to strengthen judicial independence.”
Istanbul lawyers further stated that the idea would conflict with the constitution’s 104th article, which deals with the president’s duties in relation to the judiciary, as well as with ethical standards outlined in a judicial reform package unveiled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May.
The association expressed that Turkey’s presidential system adopted in July 2018, which concentrates on virtually all political power in the presidency, has caused the most damage to the country’s principle of separation of powers.
The system gives Erdogan the right to appoint members of Turkey’s top judicial authority, the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK).
“While we should have defended not only the independence but also the impartiality [of the judiciary] in the face of the executive body, and thus underline the separation of powers as effectively as we can, disclaiming that argument would take away our right to shape the future,” they noted.
“We think that we can cover a great distance in the direction of a ‘state of law’ if our resistance, which we put up as the profession of advocacy by running the risk of paying a price if need be, can be shared with the other subjects of the judiciary,” the association concluded.
Izmir Bar Association’s President Ozkan Yucel also reminded the Supreme Court in a letter that there are currently hundreds of lawyers behind bars.
“With this letter of reply, we inform you that we have to turn down your kind invitation as the representatives of an honorable profession whose thousands of members have been captivated on the ground of their professional activities with a political decision,” Yucel said.
“If you ask us, don’t go to that hall, either,” the bar association suggested, elaborating that if they do, they will have to talk about personal freedom and safety, freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial there, while knowing that thousands of people are struggling for rights behind bars.
Ending the statement, they expressed their wish for the days when “human rights were protected and improved, the law was not disregarded and the judiciary was free from the control of the political power.”
“It’s not a choice but a duty for us not to attend an opening ceremony for the new legal year in a place where lawyers, judges, and prosecutors express their independence while applauding [the president],” Ankara Bar Association also said in a statement on Saturday.
They added that the defense is being oppressed and silenced through “a system that evolved into chaos.”
Turkish judiciary’s independence came further into question in 2016, when the new judicial year opening ceremony held at the palace turned into a display of judicial support for Erdogan, with prosecutors and judges standing up and applauding him when he entered the hall and when he ended his speech.
During the two-year state of emergency that followed a failed military coup attempt targeting Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) in July 2016, thousands of legal professionals were purged from the judiciary through government decrees.