Lawyers in Turkey protest against government’s new plan to reform bar associations

Thousands of Turkish lawyers across the country gathered to protest the ruling Justice and Development Party’s new draft law that aims to decentralize and subdue the bar associations.
Wednesday, 01 July 2020 18:23

Turkish lawyers gathered in front of Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse on June 30 to protest against the recent draft law submitted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkish government aims to divide and silence the dissident bar associations with its new plan presented to the parliament on Tuesday.

The draft law allows the establishment of alternative bar associations in İstanbul, the capital Ankara, and the western province of İzmir, representing almost half of all lawyers in the country, while it seeks to amend the electoral system of the executive board of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations to weaken the three major associations so that pro-government associations in provincial level would have more influence in the decision-making process regarding the lawyers’ agenda.

Addressing the lawyers in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse during the protests, Mehmet Durakoğlu, Head of the İstanbul Bar Association, said, ‘‘They [government authorities] accuse us of doing politics. Can you tell me a country where doing politics is a crime? They want lawyers to refrain from talking about politics, but we’ll be engaged in politics until we die.’’

‘‘Some of the lawyers are on a death fast. Lawyers are resisting because they will lose their professions, not their lives. They want a fair trial,’’ Durakoğlu continued, reminding Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal, the two arrested lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) who have gone on a death fast for a fair trial.

POLICE ATTACKED LAWYERS IN PROTEST IN ADANA

In addition to İstanbul, lawyers in southern province Adana and southeastern province of Gaziantep were also in protest for their right to defense against the Turkish government’s draft law that would decentralize the bar associations.

Lawyers continued their protests in front of the former Adana Courthouse despite the police attack in the Defense Rally in Adana.

In Gaziantep, lawyers also gathered in Democracy Square and protested the AKP government’s recent attack on the bar associations, emphasizing the bars won’t be silenced.

HEAD OF SAMSUN BAR ASSOCIATION RESIGNED TO PROTEST DRAFT LAW

Kerami Gürbüz, the Head of Samsun Bar Association, resigned from his post to protest the Turkish government’s draft law attempting to change the electoral system and the structure of the bar associations. 

‘‘I always strived for being democratic by keeping the Samsun Bar Association supra-political. Yet, we do not accept this bill. We cannot progress under these conditions. I am resigning from my duty as the Head of the Samsun Bar Association due to what we have witnessed within the last 15 days,’’ he said.

THE DRAFT LAW PRESENTED TO THE PARLIAMENT BY THE AKP

As thousands of lawyers protested the Turkish government’s plan to decentralize and silence the dissident bar associations, the ruling AKP submitted the controversial draft law to the parliament on June 30.

Claiming that it is not democratic to determine the executive board of bar associations with 20 per cent of the votes, AKP lawmaker Cahit Özkan told reporters that the bill was needed because bar associations were no longer able to function properly following a 13-fold increase in the number of lawyers in Turkey since the existing law first came into effect.

‘‘The number of lawyers, which was 10 thousand when the law came into effect in 1960, has exceeded 130 thousand. The increasing number of lawyers has reached 50 thousand in İstanbul, 20 thousand in Ankara and 10 thousand in İzmir.’’

Under the recent draft law presented by the AKP government, each bar association will be represented by 3 delegates and 1 chairman in the Union of Turkish Bar Associations.

‘‘For the bars that have more than 5,000 members, we are bringing a regulation that at least 2,000 lawyers can form the second, the third or the fourth bar by coming together,’’ Özkan also noted.

BAR ASSOCIATIONS TO HOLD ‘GRAND DEFENSE RALLY’ IN ANKARA

Protesting the government’s draft law that will pave the way for the establishment of alternative bar associations in three major cities of Turkey, presidents of 30 bars have announced that they will organize a ‘‘Grand Defense Rally’’ in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, on July 3, 2020.

‘‘As the bar presidents who are strictly against the project of multiple bar associations, we are once again calling on the political power to abandon this project of separation and division, and inviting the democratic segments of society to stand up against the project that will lead the voice of the people to be silenced and to lay claim to their bar associations,’’ the chairs of 30 bar associations have announced in a statement released on Wed.

Lawyers have been invited to ‘‘the Grand Defense Rally’’ to be held in Ankara on July 3 at 2 p.m. in the statement.