Turkey’s bar associations hold vigils against reform bill

Several Turkish bar associations have held vigils on Wednesday and Thursday against a draft bill that could fundamentally alter how lawyers’ professional organisations will function.

The bill, proposed by lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its silent coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), will allow for multiple bar associations to be established in any given province.

Following several large and small scale protest marches in late June, Istanbul Bar Association held a vigil in Taksim near the association’s offices on Wednesday, saying that the bill would hinder citizens’ right to defence.

The bill violates Turkey’s constitution, Istanbul Bar Association Deputy Chairwoman Nazan Moroğlu said during the vigil, news website Diken reported.

“We will not let this bill to pass the General Assembly,” Moroğlu said. “The way this draft was prepared, brought to parliament and discussed in the Justice Commission have all been unconstitutional.”

Law professionals’ first duty is to uphold the law, Moroğlu said, adding that the reform would mean the loss of important freedoms.

Moroğlu’s bar association held another vigil on Thursday, in Istanbul’s Çağlayan Court House.

The bill aims to take defence as an institution hostage and silence lawyers, lawyer Kemal Aytaç told news website Duvar, calling the proposal an insidious and freakish plan.

Chairs of Turkey’s bar associations had begun a march on June 20 to protest the bill, which has since passed the Parliamentary Justice Commission and will soon be voted on by deputies.

The existence of multiple bar associations will result in more discrimination and partisan polarisation, lawyers say, pointing to the danger of certain judges handling lawyers from pro- or anti-government bar associations that would inevitably form under such a system.

The membership minimums for bar associations could lead to impunity and worsened oversight, they fear. Lawyers’ training on sensitive issues, including violence against women and children, could also suffer.

Chairs of bar associations held a vigil in the capital on Thursday, under the motto “No Parallel Bars”, and were met with riot police in Ankara’s famous Kuğulu Park, near Parliament.

Bar associations from the northwestern Bursa and Sakarya provinces tweeted out videos of the police intervention, showing a large crowd in close proximity, violating social distancing guidelines still in place as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The Bursa bar association also held a simultaneous sit-in at the city’s court house.

Western Izmir province’s bar association also held a sit-in on Thursday, saying, “We will fight until we win.”

Southeastern Diyarbakır's bar association had been protesting for several days, and announced that its lawyers were marching to Ankara to support the protesting lawyers and association chairs on Thursday.