Legitimacy of TBB chairman brought into question: Istanbul Bar head

Mehmet Durakoglu, President of the Istanbul Bar Association, said that the legitimacy of the Turkish Bars Association (TBB) Chairman Metin Feyzioglu is to be brought into question after recent moves that give the impression he is getting closer to the Turkish president, T24 news portal reported on Monday.

Speaking to journalist Murat Sabuncu from T24, Durakoglu commented on the boycott, carried out by many Turkish Bar associations, of the annual opening ceremony of the judicial year, which was held at the premises of the presidential palace. He also commented on Feyzioglu’s attendance at a recent presidential event.

Fifty-two of the 79 regional Bar associations that represent lawyers from provinces across Turkey declined the Supreme Court of Appeals invitation to the new judicial year’s opening ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara.

They argued that attending the event would further damage the independence of the Turkish judiciary, as holding the ceremony in a location related to the presidency signaled a lack of separation of powers.

However, on Monday, TBB Chairman Feyzioglu attended a ceremony at the Presidential Congress and Culture Centre for the first time in five years.

Previously an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governments, Feyzioglu has come under fire for shifting position recently, appearing to be closer to Erdogan.

During a speech at the event on Monday, Feyzioglu said, “For us, if the question is our nation, the rest is not important. That is why we are here today. We are here today because our citizens have an expectation from us.”

When asked about Feyzioglu’s remarks and his participation at the event, Durakoglu said, “Mr. Feyzioglu is attempting to provide justification for his action because of his failure to do what his position really requires.”

Emphasizing that Feyzioglu uses the same language as the executive power, Durakoglu added that it was nothing but an effort to turn his inefficiency into a political framework.

When asked whether the TBB chair had a problem of legitimacy, Durakoglu replied that they are now in a position where they can debate this.

“We will start debating this as of this week, especially with our friends from the TBB. This is because we, as Istanbul Bar Association, supported Feyzioglu in 2017 due to his stance at that time. However, where we stand now forces us to reassess things. There’s a problem here,” Durakoglu elaborated.

The Bar Association president also referred to the issues of the Turkish judiciary, holding forth that Turkey is now witnessing a time period where members of political power are serving as judges while the right to defense is neglected and violated.

“This is a process of losing what we have gained over the years,” Durakoglu emphasized.

Critics argue that Turkey’s judicial independence has weakened, and the courts have been under pressure from Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) to rule in their favor, especially after the massive cleansing of the judicial system in the aftermath of an attempted military coup in July 2016.

Thousands of legal professionals were purged from the judiciary through government decrees during the two-year state of emergency that followed 2016’s coup attempt.

Critics also believe that Turkey’s switch to the new all-powerful executive presidential system, which was approved in a referendum in June last year, adds to the erosion of judicial independence in the country.

According to a report by the Arrested Lawyers Initiative – a volunteer organization, Turkish courts have convicted 321 lawyers to 2,022 years in prison within the scope of an ongoing crackdown since the failed putsch.

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