On 2 September, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan called for the suspension of lawyers accused of links to terrorism, following protests over the death of a hunger-striking lawyer last week.
Ebru Timtik, a human rights lawyer serving a terrorism sentence, died on 28 August, the 238th day of her strike, which she launched to draw attention to what rights groups have described as an unfair trial. She is the fourth prisoner to die this year as a result of a hunger strike.
Following her death, the Istanbul Bar Association hung a picture of Timtik outside its headquarters, in a protest dismissed by Erdoğan.
“We should be discussing whether methods such as expulsion from the profession should be introduced for lawyers. It is unacceptable for lawyers to carelessly stand so close by terrorists,”
the Turkish president told judges and prosecutors at a ceremony in Ankara. Turkey will take action to cut the “bloody link” between lawyers and terrorism, T24 news site cited him saying.
“It is very painful that the bars, which should be institutions of justice, turned into the backyard of terror organizations,”
Erdoğan said, adding that further measures would be taken to reform the bar associations.
The European Union said it was deeply saddened by the death of Timtik and the other four prisoners who died as a result of hunger strikes.
“The tragic outcome of their fight for a fair trial painfully illustrates the urgent need for the Turkish authorities to credibly address the human rights situation in the country.”
Dunja Mijatovic, the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, which counts Turkey as a member, blasted the country’s judicial system as one that views lawyers as guilty by association with their clients.
“Ms Timtik’s death is a tragic illustration of the human suffering caused by a judicial system in Turkey that has turned into a tool to silence lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists, through systematic disregard for the most basic principles of the rule of law.”
Earlier this year, the Erdoğan regime announced changes to the structure of Turkey’s bar associations, many of which have been strongly critical of the president. The bar associations are among the few institutions still critical of government policies following the mass purges and broader crackdown on dissident groups sparked by a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Most of the associations are highly critical of the government and its human rights record and say the judicial system has descended into chaos with lawyers jailed, legal defences muzzled and confidence in judges and prosecutors destroyed.
In June, several dozen leaders of Turkish bar associations completed a “March for Defence” against the proposed reforms.
According to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, Turkish courts have convicted 321 lawyers to 2,022 years in prison in an ongoing crackdown since 2016. The organisation’s 2019 judicial year report stated that more than 1,500 lawyers have been prosecuted and 599 lawyers arrested.
Turkey ranked 109th out of 126 countries in the 2019 Rule of Law Index prepared by international civil society organisation the World Justice Project, which said Turkey was among the countries with the least constraints on government powers and had one of the worst records on fundamental rights.