Turkey sentences 18 lawyers to over 150 years in prison on terror charges

A Turkish court on Wednesday handed down jail sentences totalling 159 years and one month for 18 lawyers over “membership in an armed terrorist organisation,” Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

The lawyers are members of Turkey’s left-wing Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and People’s Law Office (HHB), a group focusing on political repression. Seventeen of the accused were taken into custody in 2017. A court ordered their release in Sept. 2018, after imposing a travel ban.

İstanbul’s 37th High Criminal Court handed down 3 years and nine months to five lawyers for knowingly and wilfully helping a terrorist organisation, Cumhuriyet said, while the chairman of the ÇHD, Selçuk Kozağaçlı, received a 10 years and six month sentence.

Of the four lawyers who remain in police custody, Barkın Timtik received an 18 year and nine month sentence, Özgür Yılmaz a 13 year and six month sentence and Behiç Aşçı and Şükriye Erden received 12 years each.

Critics have spoken out against the sentences, pointing to large problems in the trial of the ÇHD and HHB lawyers.

The court board which initially ruled for their release pending trial was banished, a single witness in their cases was used in 141 different legal dossiers and no defence was heard from the lawyers, independent journalist Onur Öncü of the International Federation of Journalists ( IFJ ) noted. 

ÇHD is one of many organisations that were shut down by the Turkish government since the attempted coup of July 2016.

The Turkish judiciary has been hit hard by mass arrests and jailing by the Turkish government after the failed putsch.

Turkish authorities have prosecuted more than 1,500 lawyers and imprisoned 216 of them with prison terms of up to 11 years since the failed putsch, according to UK-based association of lawyers, Law Society.