Turkish lawyers on hunger strike in ‘critical condition’ - international legal organisations

A group of international legal organisations said they were “gravely concerned” for the health of two imprisoned Turkish lawyers on hunger strike, British legal magazine the Law Society Gazette reported on Thursday.

Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal have been admitted to hospital and are in “critical condition”, said Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, in a joint statement by a group of organisations including the International Bar Association and the Netherlands-based Lawyers for Lawyers.

Timtik and Ünsal, who had represented clients charged with terrorism offences, were themselves arrested in 2019 for membership of a terrorist organisation. Timtik was sentenced to a prison term of 13 years and 6 months and Ünsal to 10 years and 6 months.

The lawyers began their hunger strike in February to “strengthen their demand for fair trials and the administration of justice” in Turkey, according to the joint statement.

The legal organisations raised concerns about impartiality and independence in the lawyers’ trial.

“For instance, the judges who initially ordered the release of the lawyers from pre-trial detention were removed from the case, and the released lawyers were re-arrested; some witnesses’ identities were kept anonymous and they testified remotely by video link system, not in person, which prevented their identity or free will to testify from being verified,” they said.

“In addition, the charged lawyers were frequently interrupted or escorted out of the courtroom during the hearings.”

The organisations expressed their support for Timtik and Ünsal and urged Turkish authorities to sustain them in order to “await the outcome of their current appeal in freedom”.

“The Law Society reiterates its support for lawyers in Turkey, who should be allowed to practise their profession freely without undue external interference,” they said.

Since 2016, more than 1,500 lawyers have been prosecuted, more than 600 detained, and 345 convicted of various crimes as part of a government crackdown, according to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative. The crackdown is seen by critics as a means of stifling political dissidence.

Turkey is ranked 109th out of 126 countries according to the 2019 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index.