International Delegation to Turkey: Fact Finding and Trial Monitoring Mission, 6 – 9 November 2023
From November 6 to 9, 2023, representatives from Lawyers for Lawyers, as part of an international delegation, undertook a fact-finding and trial monitoring mission in Turkey. The delegation, comprising 27 bar associations, human rights organizations, and legal groups from eight countries, convened in Turkey to investigate the treatment of criminal law and human rights lawyers by the Turkish government.
The mission’s objectives were to attend hearings in the trial against ÖHD and EHB, visit detained lawyers of the ÇHD, engage with lawyers regarding the situation of their peers in Turkey, hold a press conference addressing the issues faced by lawyers in Turkey, and pay respects at the grave of Ebru Timtik—a ÇHD lawyer who died in 2020 during a hunger strike in pursuit of the right to a fair trial.
In the ÖHD case hearing on November 7, 2023, proceedings were adjourned until February 8, 2024. In the EHB case hearing on November 9, Gülhan Kaya, in pre-trial detention since June 10, 2023, was released, and the hearing was adjourned until January 11, 2024.
Twelve lawyers, all members of the Association of Libertarian Jurists (ÖHD), are prosecuted since 2016 on suspicion of membership of a terrorist organisation. Nine of them were arrested in March 2016 at their homes and released several days later.
Several lawyers faced charges not only for membership in a terrorist organization, contravening Article 314, Subsection 2 of the Turkish Penal Code, but also for engaging in terrorist propaganda, a violation of Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, and/or for insulting the state, contravening Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.
Hearing on November 7, 2023
Four defendants, along with over 20 defense lawyers and approximately 30 international observers, attended the hearing.
The prosecutor requested the interview of another witness and the addition of a case file from a case that was held in Diyarbakır. The court approved these requests. However, defense lawyers, including the defendant Ramazan Demir, contended that the judges who had issued rulings in their case had since been convicted for illegal decisions in other cases. Hence, they argued that, in this case, these rulings are illegal as well and should be deleted from the file. They also asked to add the files of these convicted judges and prosecutors to the case file. The court rejected both requests.
The court adjourned the hearing until February 8, 2024.
Following the hearing, defense lawyers clarified that the February 2024 session might be the final one if the prosecutor submits their opinion on time. Although the defense can seek an adjournment for their final defense, approval is uncertain. Consequently, a conclusive hearing and verdict appear imminent, raising concerns among the defendants, particularly regarding potential convictions for propaganda.
Gülhan Kaya, Sezin Uҁar, Özlem Gümüstaş and Kader Tunҁ, associated with law firm Ezilenlerin Hukuk Bürosu (EHB) in Istanbul, faced accusations of terrorist organization membership and propaganda in 2017. Gülhan Kaya was rearrested on June 10, 2023, following a new investigation. The new criminal investigation, the arrest of Gülhan Kaya and the arrest warrants against the other EHB-lawyers all seem linked to their legitimate work as lawyers.
Hearing 9 November 9, 2023
All defendants, along with over 70 defense lawyers and approximately 40 international observers, were present. Kader Tunç is no longer a suspect.
The primary focus of this hearing was the defense’s request to release Gülhan Kaya from pre-trial detention. The defense argued that there is no legitimate evidence against her, emphasizing that she faces prosecution for her lawful work as a lawyer. Additionally, they highlighted that she willingly provided her address to the police, negating any flight risk. Another concern addressed was the reliance on anonymous witnesses using identical language against the EHB lawyers. Anonymous witnesses accused Gülhan Kaya of instructing her clients to go on a hunger strike (which she denies) and advising them to exercise the right to remain silent (although she clarified that she occasionally suggests it, she never instructs her clients to do so).
Gülhan Kaya was released from pre-trial detention, and the court adjourned the hearing until January 11, 2024. Lawyers for Lawyers will continue monitoring this case.
You can read the joint statement of the delegation here.
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