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Ankara’s detention of lawyers draws global outcry

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International lawyers associations and rights groups have voiced concern over the recent detention of 60 lawyers by Ankara, saying they had been doing their job when defending clients accused of links to the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016 and designates it as a terrorist organization.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Friday issued detention warrants for 60 lawyers on terror charges.

According to a statement released by the office, detention warrants were issued for 48 lawyers, seven trainee lawyers, four dismissed judges and a law school graduate over their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement.

The lawyers followed up on “cases of Gülen-affiliated defendants” and “tried to manipulate the trials to the benefit of the terrorist organization under the guise of the practice of law,” the prosecutor’s statement read.

The Istanbul Bar Association labeled the detentions as intimidation. 

“The charge of membership in a terrorist organization stems from the [lawyers’] practice of their profession,” said a statement issued by the bar. “This situation is new, with the exception of one or two cases, and tells of a dystopia under construction.”

“A lawyer cannot be identified with their client,” the association said. 

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also denounced Ankara’s move, saying the arrests breached Turkey’s obligations under international law.

“Lawyers should never be arrested or sanctioned for representing their clients, or identified with their clients’ causes,” said Roisin Pillay, director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Program.

“This is a basic principle of the independence of the legal profession and international law, and its respect is essential to ensure that everyone has the right to a fair trial.”

The Human Rights Association (İHD) said it is unacceptable to criminalize lawyers who represent their clients through the use of the counterterrorism law (TMK).

“It cannot be a subject of criminal investigation whom a lawyer represents or what a lawyer discusses with his clients or what tactics he might opt to use while defending a client,” the İHD’s statement said.

“Lawyers can choose their clients from among persons the state views as the most dangerous and are absolutely free to determine various strategies to defend that person assuming they abide by professional ethics.”

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