The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, an advocacy group defending lawyers’ rights, on the occasion of April 5, the Day of the Lawyer in Turkey, released a statement demanding freedom for all lawyers jailed on politically motivated charges in the country.
In its statement the initiative, a member of the International Observatory for Lawyers, said based on their latest report that more than 1,600 lawyers have been prosecuted, 605 of them have been detained and some have been subjected to torture and maltreatment, while 450 of them have been given a total prison sentence of 2,786 years for doing their job since a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
The Turkish government launched a crackdown on non-loyalist citizens in the aftermath of the failed coup following which hundreds of thousands of people have been subjected to legal proceedings under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
“The principle that lawyers should be able to perform their duty without fear of reprisal, hindrance, intimidation, or harassment is one of the pillars of the right to a fair trial. The current situation in Turkey surrounding lawyers continues to have a devastating effect on Turkish citizens’ fundamental rights including the right to a fair trial,” said the initiative.
On the occasion of the Day of the Lawyer, the group called on the Turkish government to take the necessary action to ensure that all jailed lawyers are immediately released and the charges against them dropped and the creation of an environment in which they can perform their jobs without any fear of reprisal, hindrance or judicial harassment.
The initiative also called on the international community and legal organizations to stand with the jailed lawyers in Turkey.
Lawyer Metin Yücel, who was arrested on trumped-up terrorism charges in October 2016, died in prison in January after contracting COVID-19. Yücel, who was arrested for alleged membership in the Gülen movement, was one of the many political prisoners who was unable to benefit from an early parole law parliament passed in April 2020 to ease prison overcrowding amid the pandemic.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup although the movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.
The initiative also mentioned Yücel in its statement, saying that circumstances caused by the pandemic and the overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons made it urgent for the arrested lawyers to be released immediately.
Lawyer Kozağaçlı languishing behind bars
Prominent lawyer Selçuk Kozağaçlı, a member of the People’s Law Office who worked on many human rights cases in Turkey, is among Turkey’s jailed lawyers and has been behind bars since November 2017. He was given a prison sentence of 11 years, three months on trumped-up terror-related charges in March 2019.
Kozağaçlı is well known for defending the families of a mining disaster in Turkey that took place in the Soma district of Manisa province in 2014. It was the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history, with 301 miners killed.
Kozağaçlı was also president of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association, which was closed down by the Turkish government in the aftermath of the failed coup. There were reports that Kozağaçlı was kept in solitary confinement during his pretrial detention.
Kozağaçlı received the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2019.
In the meantime, a blind lawyer, Mehmet Ali Uçar, has been kept in pretrial detention for 85 days in İzmir Kırıklar Prison. Uçar was arrested on Jan. 11 on terrorism charges because his clients included persons who were tried on charges of terrorism due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement.
Uçar, who also suffers from hemophilia, has not been released from prison despite petitions asking for his release due to health problems and the opportunity to trial without being held in pretrial detention.