Turkish critics want harder line from visiting head of European court

Turkish lawyers and advocates have criticized the head of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for not defending human rights and the rule of law robustly enough while meeting President Tayyip Erdogan and top judiciary in Ankara.

The European court’s president, Robert Spano, began his four-day visit to Turkey with a speech on judicial independence in which he criticized the country’s arrests of judges and emphasized the principle of subsidiarity, under which Turkish courts must recognize ECHR rulings.

But he stopped short of addressing the government’s treatment of some lawyers, including those on hunger strike in prison demanding fair trials. Nor did the speech mention new regulations on bar associations criticized by many lawyers.

Last week, lawyer Ebru Timtik died in an Istanbul hospital after a 238-day hunger strike following her conviction last year for membership of a terrorist organization.

“The speech suggests Judge Spano does not believe that Turkey has serious human rights and rule of law problems. There exist some minor problems but all of them can easily be solved by the training of young judges. Good luck!” prominent human rights lawyer Kerem Altiparmak said on Twitter.

Spano met Erdogan and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and was later to receive an honorary law doctorate from Istanbul University. In his speech, Spano noted the detention and conviction of former Turkish judge Alparslan Altan.

The ECHR in 2019 ruled Altan’s detention was unlawful, but the ruling was not upheld by Turkish courts. Altan is serving an 11-year prison sentence after being convicted of membership of the network that Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup in 2016.

Spano’s visit drew criticism before he arrived.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, director of Human Rights Watch Turkey, said on Twitter it was “astonishing to think” Spano planned to accept a doctorate from a university that “summarily dismissed scores of academics… in an unlawful way.” She added: “Think again Judge Spano.”


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