L4L observes third hearing in case Ankara Bar Association
On 22 June 2022, representatives of Lawyers for Lawyers observed the third hearing in the trial against the Executive Board Members of the Ankara Bar Association (ABA). The Executive Board was charged for insulting a public official after releasing a statement condemning the Head of Religious Affairs’ speech during a religious ceremony.
In the speech entitled “Ramadan Patience and Will Training” held on 24 April 2020 at the Ankara Hacı Bayram-i Veli Mosque, the Head of Religious Affairs spoke of the COVID-19 pandemic, insinuating that members of the LGBT+ community were spreading the disease and urging people to “join the fight to protect people from such evil”.
The ABA issued a statement in reaction to this speech stating: “We watched with surprise and caution the speech of Ali Erbaş, Head of Religious Affairs, who insulted a part of humanity with hatred and targeted them publicly […] We respectfully proclaim to all the public that we condemn with great surprise and caution the person mentioned and the mentality that agrees with him.”
Hereafter, the Ankara Prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation against 10 Executive Board Members and 1 lawyer of the ABA on suspicion of violating article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code (publicly insulting a public official for expressing religious beliefs, thoughts and opinions), facing a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment or a judicial fine.
Hearing of 22 June 2022
The third hearing of this case took place on 22 June 2022 in the Ankara 16th Heavy Penal Court. As in previous hearings, different heads of bar associations from all over Turkey were present, as well as many lawyers to support their colleagues. As the last hearing had been about the defense statements and because the prosecutor had published their opinion, the expectations for this hearing were that the defense would present their rebuttal.
However, at the hearing the ABA explained that they were unable to prepare sufficiently for the rebuttal, as they had only had the prosecutor’s opinion the day before the hearing. Furthermore, the prosecutor in the courtroom was not the same prosecutor anymore as the one who had written the opinion, and the ABA argued that the new prosecutor could not simply accept the opinion without having reviewed it first. The lawyer of the Head of Religious Affairs objected to this request.
The court decided to postpone the hearing to 9 November 2022, in which it is expected, if the opinion remains unchanged, that the ABA defense team present their rebuttal to the opinion.
Why the prosecutor was changed remains unclear: the new prosecutor herself stated at the hearing that she was assigned to this case incidentally. This comes in a context of many judges and prosecutors being re-assigned to other matters mid-case in Turkey.
Lawyers for Lawyers will continue to monitor this case.
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