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Turkish bank freezes lawyer’s funds over vague terrorism accusation against client

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A Turkish bank has frozen a retainer paid to a lawyer on the grounds of “terrorism financing” because the client is on the Turkish Interior Ministry’s “Terrorist Wanted List,” which critics say targets the government’s opponents, the lawyer said on Friday. 

Lawyer Levent Mazılıgüney tweeted that his client had been put on the Interior Ministry’s “Terrorist Wanted List,” without any court decision against him and that the client had paid him a retainer to file a lawsuit against the action.

Mazılıgüney said his client paid him $1,300 by wire transfer from a bank in his country of residence. Mazılıgüney’s bank deducted $32 as a transfer fee. The remaining $1,268 was transferred to Mazılıgüney’s account. 

When he tried to withdraw the money, the bank informed Mazılıgüney that there was a hold on the funds, imposed by its Financial Action Task Force (FATF) unit, established to prevent the laundering of proceeds of international crime and the financing of terrorism. 

Mazılıgüney sent a notice to his bank, but the freeze on the funds has not yet been removed.

Stating that he used the account for his professional activities and that there was no injunction or order against him, Mazılıgüney said, “This shows that they want to decide who we defend and how we defend. They want to say, ‘Don’t defend [this person].’ It’s a blow to the right to a defense.”

“The counterterrorism laws currently in force in Turkey include unacceptably broad definitions of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’,” Brussels-based lawyer Ali Yıldız told Turkish Minute. 

“In Turkey, a tweet one may have posted, a book or a newspaper one might have subscribed to, or a phone call he or she might have received from an unknown number could be considered evidence of terrorist activity,” Yıldız said and added, “Yet, freezing a legal service fee that was sent to file a lawsuit against such vague accusations is Kafkaesque and unacceptable.”

The Turkish government is using measures prescribed by international watchdogs to combat terrorism financing in order to target its critics, according to a report by the International Journalists Association (IJA).

The IJA was founded in Frankfurt by German-based Turkish journalists who fled Turkey after a failed coup in 2016. Bringing together journalists from a variety of countries, the association supports independent journalism and promotes online platforms.

The report, authored by UK barrister Michael Polak and lawyer Yıldız, points out that Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prescribes punishment for terrorism-related offenses, lacks the quality of law, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and says the Turkish government is using the vaguely worded provision to jail its critics and seize or freeze their assets.

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