International group urges UN for action over purge of Turkish legal professionals

Widespread and systematic persecution of members of Turkey’s legal profession in Turkey has been ongoing since a failed coup attempt in 2016 and requires urgent action, an international coalition of legal organisations said in a report submitted to the United Nations on Thursday. 

The 25-page report said there had already been concerns about human rights violations against lawyers and judges in Turkey prior to the failed putsch, but the situation had deteriorated significantly since then.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a secretive religious group, of orchestrating the coup attempt. Since then, thousands of devotees of the group have been imprisoned, prosecuted, and sacked from their jobs in public institutions. 

“Within 24 hours of the attempted coup, 2,740 judges and prosecutors were suspended for alleged links to the Gülenist movement,” the report said. According to the coalition, as of April 2019, 4,260 judges and prosecutors had been dismissed. 

“Since the failed coup, approximately 599 lawyers have been arrested and detained (in pre-trial detention), 1,546 lawyers prosecuted, and 311 lawyers convicted and sentenced to a total of 1,967 years in prison,” the report said. Some 634 legal professionals have been convicted over terrorism- related charges as of April 29. 

In addition, approximately 500 administrative personnel of the Supreme Court, Council of State, Court of Accounts, and Council of Judges and Prosecutors were also dismissed and only eight reinstated, the report said. 

Since the coup attempt, the government has gained unprecedented control over the judiciary and prosecutorial authorities, undermining judicial independence, as well as the rule of law, according to the report. Legislative and constitutional amendments have been used to harass and persecute legal professionals, not only to suppress dissenting voices, but also to restrict and criminalise legal work, it said. 

The report said the European Court of Human Rights had received 57,039 petitions from Turkish citizens in 2017, 25,000 of which had been rejected for failing to exhaust domestic remedies. Even in cases where the European court has rendered judgment against Turkey for violating rights, there is a lack of implementation by Turkey of such judgments, the report said. 

Turkish authorities have been interfering with lawyers’ professional duties by preventing access to case files, imposing restrictions on access to clients, and through breaches of professional confidentiality between lawyers and their clients, the international coalition said.