Twenty-five Turkish bar associations said Turkey has been going through “the gravest judicial crisis” of its history.
This is according to the seven-point joint statement released on Monday following a meeting attended by the heads of the bar associations in Turkey’s western province of Izmir.
“With its current structure, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) has been totally politicized and has become an institution of independent judges being pressed to act according to the order-like remarks made by the executive power [government],” the statement said.
The bars’ move came following the rearrest of a Turkish rights activist for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order last week, hours after he was acquitted of overthrowing the government.
Prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala was arrested for the second time before his release after the acquittal decision by the Istanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court in the 2013 Gezi Park protests case. His re-arrest is over charges related to the 2016 coup attempt in the country.
A day after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the acquittal of Osman and eight others, the HSK launched an investigation into the three judges who handed down the verdict.
The HSK, Turkey’s legal disciplinary body responsible for judicial appointments, has been long criticized by many for its alleged partial decisions. Since 2017, the HSK members have been appointed directly by Erdogan and the Turkish Parliament, which is mostly under the influence of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The bars added that the lower courts’ practice of not implementing the rulings of Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had been normalized.
There have many cases, including those of Kavala, Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), journalists Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay, in Turkey where the lower courts defied the ECtHR and the AYM rulings although they are legally binding.
The statement said Turkey had become one of the biggest jailers of lawyers in the world. Experiencing a democracy crisis, the country had been handing heavy decisions down to lawyers who are just doing what their profession necessitates, the bar said.
“The reality of today’s Turkey reflects a country where our colleagues [lawyers] have to stage hunger strikes to demand a fair trial,” the statement read.
A group of eight lawyers from the shut-down Contemporary Lawyers Association (CHD), who were given lengthy jail sentences, have been on a hunger strike in prison since February 3, demanding a fair trial. The lawyers were arrested in September 2018 over terror charges.
According to last week’s report, a Turkish public prosecutor wants a Turkish lawyer who worked for the German Embassy in Ankara to be jailed for 20,973 years over charges of espionage.
As part of the embassy work, the lawyer Yilmaz S., on behalf of the embassy, was trying to get information from the Turkish prosecutors and police about asylum seekers in Germany before he was arrested on September 17.
The bars also touched upon arbitrary practices by the Turkish judicial authorities towards lawyers, such as those imposed in immigration removal centers, facilities used for holding foreigners awaiting decisions on their asylum claims, or awaiting deportation following a failed application.
In May last year, the Izmir Bar Association condemned the judicial officials of the Harmandali Immigration Removal Center for keeping its lawyers from visiting detained immigrants for two hours behind locked doors at the center.
The center’s authorities allegedly kept the lawyers behind locked doors, ignoring their calls for release and humanitarian needs.
“This is not a unique case [there have been many right violation cases]. The violations towards the lawyers are not different from those experienced by detained immigrants. In essence, this is a systematic practice of concealing the violations of rights towards foreigners held at the center and preventing them from accessing asylum and legal services,” Ozkan Yucel, the head of the association, said at the time.
The bar statement was signed by the associations from the provinces of Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Aydin, Balikesir, Bilecik, Burdur, Bursa, Canakkale, Denizli, Diyarbakir, Edirne, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Izmir, Kirklareli, Kocaeli, Manisa, Mersin, Mugla, Sanliurfa, Tekirdag, Van, and Yalova.