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Türkiye: IBAHRI expresses serious concern over trial of six defence lawyers

Tuesday 28 May 2024

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has expressed serious concern over the trial of six lawyers in Türkiye who were all former defence counsel for Adnan Oktar and more than 200 of his associates. With multiple reports suggesting violations of domestic, regional and international human rights law, the IBAHRI emphasises the importance of affording due process to the lawyers.

The trial is taking place in Istanbul, Türkiye between 22–25 May 2024. The six lawyers are Istanbul Bar Association members Burak Temiz, Pelin Durmuş, Sinem Mollahasanoglu, Tugba Bal and Ayşe Toprak, as well as Ankara Bar Association member Arzu Gül. The lawyers are being tried on the charge of ‘membership of an organisation established for the purpose of committing a crime’, under Article 220 of the Turkish Criminal Code.

During investigations by Türkiye’s authorities into the alleged crimes of the six lawyers’ former clients – Mr Oktar and his associates – the professional duties of the lawyers were termed ‘criminal organisational activities’ by the authorities. Since 2018, the lawyers representing Mr Oktar and his associates have reportedly also been the targets of deliberate and repeated judicial harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detainment by Türkiye’s police. Also, reports imply that the criminal charges against the lawyers lack a clear legal basis and that access to legal counsel has been denied to them. If correct, the human rights violations against the lawyers are consistent with those committed against their former clients.

The legal basis of the present charges against the lawyers appears ambiguous and the evidence of violations of fundamental procedural safeguards constitutes an alarming misuse of legislation to prosecute lawyers in the course of their legitimate work. According to the Turkish Prosecutor’s Office, the grounds for the charges against the six lawyers rest on a number of misconduct allegations: namely that the lawyers placed illegitimate pressure on their clients involved in the Adnan Oktar case. The Prosecutor’s Office also alleged that the lawyers transmitted ‘orders and instructions’ to defendants, and that they ‘controlled their financial means by aiming to ensure the continuity of a criminal organisation’. All six lawyers strongly deny the claims.

In 2022, four of the six lawyers were arrested and detained as they provided counsel to Mr Oktar and his associates.

Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, IBAHRI Co-Chair and Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, stated: ‘The continuous judicial harassment, detention, and criminal prosecution of Adnan Oktar’s lawyers in the legitimate course of their professional work as legal practitioners are wilful breaches of Türkiye’s obligations under the Turkish Constitution, Turkish Attorneyship Law, and international law instruments. The IBAHRI vehemently denounces such violations of fundamental legal rights. We call for the intimidation to stop immediately and we urge Türkiye’s courts to uphold the rule of law during this trial and beyond.’

The IBAHRI reminds Turkey of its obligations to ensure observance of fair trail rights. Article 58 of the Turkish Attorneyship Law prescribes that ‘all investigations on lawyers induced by crimes arising in connection with their practice of attorneyship will be conducted by the public prosecutor in the jurisdictional area where the crime is committed.’ According to reports, no such permission was sought from the Ministry of Justice by Turkish authorities in their investigation and arrest of the six defence lawyers, indicating significant procedural irregularities.

Furthermore, Article 36 of the Turkish Constitution entrenches a defendant’s right to a fair trial through legitimate court procedures. In addition, the IBAHRI also finds that the course of action in the arrest and prosecution of the six lawyers on account of their profession stands in contrast to Turkey’s obligations under international law and related instruments.

As a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), all levels and branches of the Government of Türkiye are obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR, including the right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal under Article 14. This is further entrenched in Article 10 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the terms of which Turkey are obligated to observe as a UN member.

Article 9 of the ICCPR further requires that no one shall be arbitrarily arrested or detained, and no one shall be deprived of their liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as is established by law. This is further enshrined under Article 5 and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Turkey is a signatory.

Moreover, under Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the Turkish government must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional responsibilities without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and that they ‘shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics’.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Mark Stephens CBE stated, ‘The IBAHRI remains deeply concerned over the flagrant denial of due process, judicial harassment and significant violation of domestic and international human rights law which have permeated the criminal proceedings relating to Adnan Oktar and his lawyers. The attempts to create a culture of fear around this case and leave the defendants without proper and sufficient legal defence is deplorable. With respect to the current criminal trials of his lawyers, the IBAHRI asks that the defendants be offered due process, and that all lawyers are able to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of intimidation, harassment, or interference, in accordance with domestic and international human rights standards, to ensure the accessibility of justice to all.’

In July 2022, the IBAHRI sent a letter to Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, criticising the unlawful arbitrary practices against Adnan Oktar’s lawyers. This letter emphasised that the course of action in the arrest and detainment of the six lawyers was in direct conflict with both domestic and regional law, as well as Turkey’s obligations under international law. No reply has been received.

In February 2024, the IBAHRI released a joint report with The Arrested Lawyers Initiative detailing the pattern of detention, prosecution, and conviction of lawyers and civil society activists by Turkish authorities on the basis of vague and broad anti-terrorism offences created since the attempted coup against President Erdoğan in 2016. Most recently, this included the case of prominent human rights activist, Öztürk Türkdoğan, who was arrested and charged in Istanbul on offences of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and for ‘insulting the Turkish State’ following his public statements as co-chair of the Human Rights Association.

The alarming trend of the censorship of lawyers in Turkey has since led to numerous court rulings against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights for violations of the ECHR, with several judgments concluding that this abuse of vague anti-terrorism legislation has led to arbitrary convictions that lack clear evidence or any sufficiently convincing legal basis.

Background to the case of Adnan Oktar and his more than 200 associates

The case concerning Mr Oktar has been ongoing since 2018. He was first arrested by Turkish Police in July of that year at his home on criminal charges that included forming a criminal enterprise and financial fraud. The Turkish authorities then arrested 168 of his associates on similar charges in a large-scale police operation.

In 2021, Mr Oktar was sentenced to 1,075 years in prison. In March 2022, the sentence was overturned by the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. In November 2022, following an extensive public campaign against the judges who handed down the sentence, a retrial was ordered by a Turkish appeal court for all defendants including Mr Oktar. At this retrial, Mr Oktar’s sentence was commuted to 8,658 years in prison on charges including sexual abuse, deprivation of liberty and running a criminal enterprise. The arrest, detainment and prosecution of the defendants in this case are reportedly hallmarked by significant violations of legal procedure and human rights law including restrictions to access legal counsel on multiple occasions for Mr Oktar and his associates.

The IBAHRI implores the Turkish judiciary to comply with their obligations imposed by domestic and international human rights legislation in this current case and others, and ensure due process is afforded to all defendants to prevent any further miscarriages of justice.

ENDS

Contact: IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

  2. Find the IBAHRI on social media here:

  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

  4. Find the IBA on social media here:

Website page link for this news release:

Short link: https://tinyurl.com/yswt5dsb

Full link: https://www.ibanet.org/T%C3%BCrkiye:%20IBAHRI%20expresses%20serious%20concern%20over%20trial%20of%20six%20defence%20lawyers