First hearing in the trial against lawyer Süleyman Şahin: Diyarbakir 15.02.2024
7 maart 2024

First hearing in the trial against lawyer Süleyman Şahin: Diyarbakir 15.02.2024


On 15 February 2024, Lawyers for Lawyers representatives attended a hearing at the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court, which marked the start of the trial against lawyer Mr Süleyman Şahin. As part of an international delegation, L4L was requested to observe the proceedings in support of Mr Süleyman Şahin and to report on their fairness and impartiality.  

The defendant, Mr Süleyman Şahin, is a lawyer registered with the Diyarbakır Bar Association and the Free Lawyers Association (ÖDH), and serves as the Chairperson of the Social Litigation Commission of the Diyarbakır Bar Association Human Rights. He has been active in the field of human rights for over six years, taking on cases related to arbitrary arrest and detention, judicial pressure, and clients who are suspected of various terrorism-related offences. 

The charges

Based on his professional activities, the defendant has been charged with membership to a terrorist organisation pursuant to Article 314(2) of the Turkish Penal Code. According to the indictment, the defendant allegedly acted as a member of the PKK by providing legal aid to individuals suspected of participating in PKK/KCK-related terrorism activities. The fact that he carried out these professional activities under the flag of the Free Lawyers Association (ÖDH) is perceived as a ‘cover’ for his intentional support for terrorism through his position in the legal structure of the PKK. These claims are solely supported by a single witness statement, of a ‘confessor’ who has remarkably assisted the police in identifying over 600 individuals allegedly involved in terrorism. Most of these individuals are Kurdish citizens active in the public space.  

Pre-dating events

On 25 April 2023, during which coordinated dawns raids in Turkey targeted the homes and offices of at least 110 people including journalists, lawyers, rights defenders, political activists and artists in 20 provinces, based on unclear charges. This was widely reported on by international media and human rights organisation. According to the Diyarbakır Bar Association, a total of 25 lawyers, including the defendant, were subjected to searches of their homes or offices, and simultaneously detained. The office of the ‘Lawyers for Freedom’ (ÖHD) was also raided. During these searches, various documents and digital files were seized in violation of procedural safeguards. This prosecution therefore takes place against the backdrop of larger scale police investigations in the southeast of Turkey. 

Trial hearing

The hearing commenced at 11h00 and the audience tribune was filled with lawyers from various local bar associations. As it concerned a terrorism case, three judges presided, with the prosecutor notably sitting on the same bench as them. The defence counsel was comprised of three lawyers. 

The hearing opened with the defendant’s statement in response to the allegations, where he pointed out that, as he was being prosecuted for carrying out his professional duties, the sole purpose of the proceedings was to intimidate him and lawyers in general. In addition, the defence had not been given the chance to hear the witness, violating the principle of equality of arms. The judge questioned the defendant about his knowledge of the PKK; whether he had given refuge to PKK members in his house, and, as a lawyer, had defended them. The defendant refuted all allegations. 

Following this brief questioning of the defendant, the defence counsel brought forward their arguments. Essentially, they requested the defendant’s acquittal and advocated for the need to guarantee a fair trial, characterising the prosecutor’s case as ‘fiction’, referring to the lack of evidence and plethora of procedural violations. It was stressed that the defendant’s right to have access to a lawyer during his 22-hour detention was not respected. The defence reminded the court of the nature of the ÖHD, namely an NGO working to protect human rights, and condemned the prosecutor’s use of a ‘confessor’ as the single key witness.  

Lawyers for Lawyers had also been requested to submit a legal note outlining concerns with regards to the prosecution of lawyers in Turkey in general, as well as the challenges posed to fairness and impartiality in this case. While referring to the contents thereof, the defence stressed the ambiguous and broad nature of terrorism legislation in Turkey, contrary to international legal standards.  

In addition, the defence called for greater protection of lawyer-client confidentiality and argued that the principle of legal professional privilege had been violated during the raid of the defendant’s office on 25 April 2023. The defence was concluded by a member of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, who emphasized the need to respect the presumption of innocence and reiterated the lack of concrete evidence and unreliability of the witness.  

After a deliberation of no more than 2 minutes, the judges returned and the chairman announced that various witnesses should be heard in court, as requested by the defence. This includes the witness cited in the indictment, as well as clients of the defendant who would be able to attest to the former’s statements. The next hearing is scheduled for 21 May.  

A week later, it turned out that the prosecutor filed an additional request to prevent the defendant from providing legal aid in terrorism cases. The defence was not separately notified of this request. It is expected to be dealt with in the upcoming hearing, which will be attended by Lawyers for Lawyers. 

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