Board of the Izmir Bar acquitted on all charges
On 24 April 2023, representatives of Lawyers for Lawyers observed a hearing in a trial against the ex-president and the ex-members of the Izmir Bar Association.
The board was accused of ‘publicly denigrating the religious values adopted by a section of the population’ (article 216/3 and article 53 of the Turkish penal code) for posting a statement on the website of the Izmir Bar Association on 25 April 2020.
The statement of the Bar Association was titled : ‘In spite of hate, live life’ and was posted in response to the statements made by the Director of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş, in his Friday sermon on 24 April 2020 regarding LGBTI+ people, unmarried people and people living with HIV. The Bar Association condemned the speech of mr Erbaş, called out the hateful and discriminatory content (i.e. hate speech) and expressed concern that these statements might create new hate crimes.
Although In first instance the prosecutor decided there was no reason to prosecute, the ministry of Justice overruled this decision and insisted that the case should be tried. Hence, the hearing on 24 April 2023 was scheduled.
In a crowded court room, with many lawyers from all over Turkey present, as well as the president of the Union of National Bar Associations, several presidents of bar associations, and international observers from France, Italy and the Netherlands, the defendants and their lawyers insisted that calling out infringements of human rights is not only the right of a bar association – as stipulated in article 23 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers -, it is even a duty. Some of them stipulated that there was no crime and therefore no reason to defend themselves. Others requested acquittal.
The prosecutor also asked for acquittal, arguing that the elements of the alleged crime have not been met and that the statement of the Bar Association does not contain anything criminal.
During the trial a legal opinion written by Lawyers for Lawyers was presented and submitted to the court. The conclusion of this legal opinion is that the criminal charges brought against the defendants and the provisions under which the defendants have been charged do not comply with international and European standards on freedom of expression nor with the standards for the role of lawyer and protection of the profession of lawyers.
Although we are pleased with the acquittal of the (ex) board members of the Izmir Bar Association, the case is not without consequence for the performance of Bar Associations. The fact that a prosecution like this is always looming over them, even when making perfectly legitimate statements, is an intimidation in itself.
Also, the ex-president of the Ankara Bar Association (now president of the Union of National Bar Associations) and ex board members of the Ankara Bar Association are still on trial in a similar case. The next hearing in that case is scheduled on 17 May 2023. L4L will continue to monitor this trial.
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