Turkish authorities undermine right to fair trial by targeting lawyers - Rights group

The unwarranted and abusive targeting of lawyers for prosecution by Turkish authorities has undermined a key guarantor of the right to a fair trial in Turkey, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report published on Wednesday.

The report entitled “Lawyers on Trial” said Turkish authorities had targeted lawyers, in particular criminal defence lawyers, since a failed coup attempt in 2016. 

“The report examines a pattern of prosecutors investigating and opening cases against lawyers,” the rights organisation said. It documents cases in which prosecuting authorities have criminalised lawyers over their professional duties and have associated them with the alleged crimes of their clients.

According to HRW, some lawyers have been prosecuted in reprisal for their efforts to document police abuse and other human rights violations. The HRW report also documents police efforts to intimidate lawyers. 

The majority of lawyers on trial for terrorism in Turkey are charged over links to the Gülen movement, a religious group the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt, according to HRW. A smaller number of lawyers are also facing terror-related charges over membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other leftist groups.  

According to the figures provided by the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, a civic group, as of April 2019, 1,546 lawyers have been prosecuted in Turkey, with 274 among them convicted in first-instance courts of membership of a terrorist organisation, and 598 having been held in pre-trial detention.

HRW said the Turkish authorities had also imposed severe restrictions on individuals who were in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges preventing them from effectively benefitting from legal counsel and being able to prepare themselves for court. 

“Lawyers can find themselves barred from acting for a client facing a terrorism investigation for up to two years, if they themselves are under investigation for terrorism; and courts can restrict named lawyers from accessing investigation files of individuals in police custody on suspicion of terrorism offences,” HRW said.