Second hearing in the case of human rights lawyer Suleyman Sahin
4 June 2024

Second hearing in the case of human rights lawyer Suleyman Sahin

Türkiye

On May 21st, the second hearing in the case of human rights lawyer Suleyman Sahin took place in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Representatives from Lawyers for Lawyers attended to show support and to observe whether the court adhered to international fair trial standards.

As discussed in our previous report about the first hearing on 15 February 2024, Suleyman Sahin is a human rights lawyer affiliated with the Diyarbakir Bar Association and the Free Lawyers Association (ÖHD). Together with 24 of his ÖHD colleagues, Suleyman is being charged with the same offense as his predominantly Kurdish clients: membership in the PKK, a designated terrorist organization. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

A single witness statement

The prosecution’s case hinges entirely on a single witness statement by a ‘confessor witness’ named Ümit Akbiyik, who has reportedly aided the police in identifying over 600 individuals allegedly involved in terrorism and is himself being prosecuted for multiple (terrorism)offences. During the first hearing, the defense counsel brought forth various points on the lack of evidence, procedural violations, and strongly condemned the use of a confessor as the sole key witness. After a brief deliberation, the chairman announced that various witnesses, including the one cited in the indictment, should be heard in court in a second hearing, as requested by the defense.

The second hearing

The second hearing centered around the questioning of two witnesses: the key witness, Ümit, and another witness, Gülistan, who Ümit had referred toin his witness statement. After questioning, one of the three defense lawyers, suggested that Ümit had a secret agreement with the police to sustain their investigation and ensuing prosecution of laywer Süleyman Sahin, in exchange for more lenient sentencing. He questioned the validity of Ümit’s 32-hour police statement, noting that Ümit’s lawyer was reportedly present for only 30 minutes contrary to Ümit’s claim that he was represented for the full duration of the interrogation. The defence called for Ümit’s lawyerto testify about his presence during the interrogation.

In his testimony, Ümit mentioned a woman named Gülistan, who – according to his witness statement and the indictment – recommended Süleyman as a lawyer due to his father’s connections with the HDP (a Kurdish political party) and the PKK. She was the second witness: a university student held in pre-trial detention for over2.5 years. Refusing to speak Turkish, a Kurdish translator was brought in. Gülistan stated she did not know Süleyman nor Ümit and was in fact herself imprisoned solely based on Ümit’s false testimony, awaiting the start ofher trial.

Request for additional evidence

The second defense lawyer pointed out that in all 25 related cases, Ümit was the sole witness. She urged the court to gather additional evidence to support Ümit’s claims, suggesting he was merely a puppet of the police, repeating memorized statements across different cases. The lawyer further highlighted that several charges against Ümit had been dropped, indicating potential collusion. She argued that the case was a direct attack on Süleyman for his human rights work with ÖHD, and urged the prosecutor to present verifiable and substantial evidence. She also criticized the lack of access to cited evidence, such as a digital file purportedly containing the 25 lawyers’ names, including Süleyman’s.

Implications for justice

The final defense lawyer noted that Ümit’s consistent testimony across various cases undermined the integrity of the judicial process. He warned that basing a judgment on a single unreliable witness eroded trust in the justice system and posed a threat to everyone involved.

The hearing concluded with these statements, prompting the court to consider the defense’s arguments and the broader implications for justice and the rule of law in Turkey.

Next hearing

The judge accepted the defense’s request and scheduled the next hearing for October 1st, during which Ümit’s lawyer will called to the witness stand. The final hearing is likely to be scheduled for December 2024, or January 2025. Lawyers for Lawyers will continue to closely monitor this trial.

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