Opposition lawmakers, lawyers stand against bar association bill

The Turkish parliament passed on Friday after midnight a controversial law that will allow for multiple bar associations to be established in any given province with more than 5,000 lawyers registered.

Opposition parties and heads of Turkey’s bar associations, including the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) Chairman Metin Feyzioğlu, have voiced opposition to the bill, saying it would lead to many problems in the future.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “wishes to silence anybody who voices dissent,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Suzan Şahin said during discussions on the bill in parliament’s general assembly before the vote.

Multiple bar associations is a separatist approach, Şahin said, as quoted by Ahval Turkish.

“They would lead to identity-based demands for rights. Under such conditions, a fight for democracy cannot be sustained, and there will be fracturing,” the CHP deputy said.

Pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Tülay Hatimoğulları questioned why the AKP favoured division when its party logo is “One nation, one flag, one state, one homeland.”

“When it comes to bar associations, because they are not your sycophants, you want to create multiples,” Hatimoğulları said. “All of a sudden, you want to be pluralistic.”

The government thinks it could replace any bar association’s administration with people appointed by itself, Hatimoğulları said, parallel to how elected mayors have been replaced by government-appointed trustees in the country’s Kurdish majority southeast.

“This means the removal of the right to vote and run in elections,” she added. “This is nothing but leading a one-man regime.”

Yasin Öztürk, lawmaker from the centre-right opposition Good Party (İYİP), called on scholars of law among AKP deputies.

“You will be remembered as a government that polarised the judiciary, and removed the right to defence because the lawmakers who are colleagues (to lawyers) could not voice objections,” Öztürk said, warning of the dangers of politicising bar associations.

“What dangers await those lawyers who won’t join an AK-bar association?” he asked.

While there was dispute among bar associations on the system to elect delegates and achieve justice in representation, all bar associations in Turkey, as well as the TBB, object to the idea of multiple bar associations, TBB Chairman Feyzioğlu said in a televised interview before the vote.

Feyzioğlu said he did not agree with bar association chairs on the protest march they organised against the bill.

“Look, we did not march, but there is not a modicum of difference in opinion with my friends outside (protesting the bill),” he said.

“They are angry,” he continued, as cited by Sözcü newspaper. “Meanwhile, I do not join their march, but express the same sentiment in plain sentences.”

The association chairs held a march from their respective provinces around the country last week, to gather in capital Ankara, where they were met with riot police intervention as they protested the then-draft bill.

Feyzioğlu said there had been a draft bill that was occasionally discussed since 2014, but the one that passed was a completely different one that appeared “two-three months ago.” The older draft did not propose multiple bar associations, he added.

Calling the bill a “disaster,” the TBB chairman said it would lead to sectarian and ethnicity-focused bar associations. “It will lead to a concern and a perception that rulings will differ depending on what bar association the lawyer is a member of.”

The bill aims to take defence as an institution hostage and silence lawyers, lawyer Kemal Aytaç said during the protests.

Izmir Bar Association President Özhan Yücel called the government plan a “project of treason, a project to divide, pulverise and take over,” at the beginning of the protest march.

Turkey’s lawyers fear that the proposal would drastically reduce the power of oversight bar associations have, and the obligation to keep a certain number of members would lead to problems

HDP lawmaker Erol Katırcıoğlu, in an article published on Ahval Turkish, said AKP deputies’ defence of the bill was “not convincing at all,” and that it was obvious the proposal “came from the Palace,” and not through vigorous debate among lawmakers as claimed.

AKP’s solution to lowered efficiency in public institutions was to privatise bar associations, Katırcıoğlu said.

“This is nothing but a step by the government to eliminate opposition by the Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir bar associations in particular,” the lawmaker continued. “This is a very dangerous step.”

Katırcıoğlu said similar polarization in the country had played a role in sparking the 1980 military coup.