The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the principles of equality before the law, presumption of innocence and the right to a fair and public trial by an independent and impartial tribunal. Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights upholds the right of every person to be tried without undue delay. In view of this, the comprehensive infringement of the rights and freedoms of the 48 lawyers suspected of involvement in the Gülen network is glaringly obvious. The charges they are facing relate to the performance of their duties as lawyers and not to their actions as private individuals. The Istanbul Bar Association has issued the following statement: ‘Lawyers cannot be identified with their clients’ and ‘Intimidation designed to hamper lawyers in the exercise of their duty… will affect both the public and the legal profession and gradually undermine faith in the administration of justice.’
In a question to the European Commission submitted on 28 September 2020, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Demetris Papadakis of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament asked the Commission “is it aware of the illegal acts being committed by the Turkish Government” and “if so, what measures will it take to end the systematic arrest of lawyers?”
In closing, MEP Papadakis requested more information on the specific actions that will be taken by the Commission to “ensure that independent investigations are conducted into the actions of those held criminally liable for these arbitrary and unlawful arrests?”
On 12 November 2020, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi responded to this question on behalf of the European Commission. In his response he reported that “the Commission underlined in its 2020 report on Turkey that lawyers providing legal assistance to human rights defenders and civil and political activists face considerable obstacles in performing their work and are at risk of arrest, detention and prosecution for carrying out their human rights work”. He also added that “the Commission also reiterated its call on the Turkish authorities to release lawyers, along with journalists, human rights defenders, writers and academics being unjustly detained”.
Commissioner Varhelyi declared that “as a candidate country and long-standing member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is expected to apply the highest democratic standards and practices, including the right to a fair trial, a legal process and the strict respect of the principle of presumption of innocence”.
In closing, Commissioner Varhelyi underlined that “the Commission will continue to monitor closely the situation of lawyers in Turkey and raise these issues in the context of its policy dialogue with the Turkish authorities”.
Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis over the past four years with a dramatic erosion of its rule of law and democracy framework. Since the July 2016 coup attempt, Turkey has seen mass arrests and trials on terrorism charges of thousands of people not involved in any violent act. Among them are journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians tried in proceedings which rights groups have documented as politicized and unfair.
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