Letter on criminal investigation launched against Ankara Bar Association and Diyarbakir Bar Association
In a letter to the Turkish authorities that was co-signed by Lawyers for Lawyers and nine other signatories, we expressed concern about the criminal investigations that have been launched against Ankara Bar Association and Diyarbakir Bar Association.
The investigation against the Ankara Bar Association was opened after the Ankara Bar Association filed a complaint – on 27 April 2020 – against the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Mr. Ali Erbaş. The latter, in a sermon on 24 April 2020, referred to COVID-19 generally and, referencing HIV, suggested that members of the LGBT community spread disease, urging people to “join the fight to protect people from such evil”.
According to our information, the Diyarbakir Chief Prosecutor’s Office has launched a criminal investigation into the Diyarbakir Bar Association on the same grounds, after that Bar Association also spoke out against the remarks made by the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate.
The signatories underline that the criminal investigations represent a threat to the independence of the legal profession in Turkey. Bar Associations should be able to function as independent professional bodies, representing their members, without any interference from the executive or legislative branches of government.
The criminal investigations launched against these Bar Associations have the potential to erode the separation of powers, as well as the respect for the rights of members of the LGBT community, in what constitutionally is a secular and democratic republic.
Furthermore, the signatories note in the letter that these criminal investigations form part of a broader effort to undermine the independence of Bar Associations, and the legal profession more widely, in Turkey.
Therefore, the signatories urged the relevant authorities to firstly discontinue the criminal investigations launched against the Ankara Bar Association and the Diyarbakir Bar Association with immediate effect and take no further measures against these and other Bar Associations that interfere, or could interfere, with their independence. Secondly, the signatories urged the authorities to withdraw all proposals to amend the legal framework concerning lawyers and other legislation or regulations that interfere, or could lead to interference, with the independence of the legal profession (either in respect of individual lawyers or lawyers’ professional representative bodies).
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