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Int’l law associations call on Turkey to halt wrongful prosecution of legal professionals

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An international group of law associations recently issued a joint statement highlighting the ongoing challenges faced by the legal profession in Turkey.

The statement was issued by the Law Society of England and Wales, together with the IBA Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L), the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA), Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and Judges for Judges (J4J) and addressed the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It was read before the special rapporteur, currently Professor Nils Melzer of Switzerland, on March 2, 2018 during a side event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva and widely circulated at the Human Rights Council.

In the joint statement the organizations raise concerns over the widespread use of torture and other ill treatment in the aftermath of an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, the lack of effective investigations and the ongoing reports of torture. The signatories also share their concern over the widespread and systematic arbitrary arrest and detention of judges and lawyers in Turkey.

According to the statement reliable reports indicate that since July 2016 at least 1,525 lawyers have been prosecuted, 578 have been arrested and kept in pretrial detention and 99 sentenced, while more than 4,400 judges and prosecutors have been investigated, with in excess of 2,400 put in pretrial detention.

These reports also indicate the use of torture, ill-treatment and excessive solitary confinement against legal professionals, which can be highlighted in the case of a senior judge held in solitary confinement for more than a year and a lawyer arrested with 17 colleagues who were allegedly tortured by prison officials, the law associations said in the statement, adding:

“… on 5 January 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office in Trabzon ruled that Decree Law No. 667 grants State officials immunity for any act committed within their duties under the state of emergency decrees, including acts of torture and ill-treatment. The prohibition on the use of torture and the duty of states to prevent and punish torture are non-derogable rights under international human rights law and, therefore, cannot be limited or suspended under any circumstance. We call on the Special Rapporteur to investigate and recommend remediation of the potential impunity for torture granted to State officials.”

The signatories to the joint statement call on Turkey to “[s]top and remedy the arbitrary arrest, detention and wrongful prosecution of legal professionals; and [p]revent, investigate and punish the use of torture and ill-treatment by State officials.”

Since a state of emergency was declared following the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016, reports show that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have systematically targeted lawyers and shut down approximately 34 bar associations.

According to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, the grounds for prosecution have commonly been alleged affiliation with an armed terrorist organization, incurring sentences of up to 13 years’ imprisonment. A key piece of evidence in linking lawyers to terrorist organizations has been their use of a mobile phone application known as ByLock, an encrypted and secure messaging app that is widely used in Turkey.

ByLock is also believed by the government to be a communication tool among followers of the faith-based Gülen movement, accused by the government of masterminding the failed coup. The movement denies any involvement in the putsch.

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