Concerns about draft bill on the reform of Turkish Bar Associations
On 30 June 2020, a ruling-party proposed bill which aims to restructure bar associations was submitted to the Parliament in Turkey. Lawyers from Turkey organized and participated in countrywide protests against the proposed bill.
The draft bill was presented to Parliament on 30 June 2020 by President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party). The draft bill is intended to change election laws for bar associations and professional chambers. Amongst other things, if the draft bill becomes law, lawyers will be allowed to form additional bar associations in provinces with more than 5,000 registered lawyers. New associations would need a minimum of 2,000 members. Lawyers from Turkey have underlined that these reforms could further restrict the independence of the bar associations and the legal profession. Protesters believe that the government intends to dilute the existing bar associations in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – many of which are outspoken critics of the Turkish government regarding the rule of law and human rights – by forming multiple bar associations in the same province. According to our information, the draft bill was prepared behind closed doors and lawyers and bar associations were not consulted about the draft bill.
From 19 June to 21 June 2020, a large number of lawyers and local Turkish Bar Associations presidents launched a symbolic march from their respective provinces to the entrance of Ankara to protest against the new draft bill. At the entrance of Ankara, police agents forcedly prevented the lawyers and several Bar presidents, marching under the slogan “Defense Marches” from entering the capital. Following the police intervention, the march quickly turned into a sit-in protest. Eventually, the march was allowed to visit Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Plans for the new draft bill were announced shortly after criminal investigations were launched, under Article 216 § 3 of the Turkish Penal Code against the Ankara and Diyarbakır Bar Associations for their recent statements criticizing Turkey’s president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs who publicly alleged, during a sermon on 24 April 2020, that LGBTQ+ persons were the source for evil and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawyers for Lawyers is concerned about the latest developments in Turkey, and calls on the Turkish authorities to withdraw and refrain from taking any measure which would have the effect of hindering the independence, integrity and freedom of expression of the legal profession in Turkey.
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