Pro-secular bar association conceals acts of torture committed under Turkey’s Islamist government

Levent Kenez/Stockholm

A scandal that erupted after the Ankara Bar Association refused to publish a report prepared by the Bar Human Rights Center on allegations of torture of detainees held by Ankara police has intensified as lawyers resign in protest against the bar association’s decision.

The resignation of Rıza Türmen, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and president of the Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, dealt a blow to the management of the association, which failed to respond to multiple calls from lawyers and human rights organizations to release the report. Known for its opposition to the Islamist and authoritarian Turkish government, the bar administration, controlled by secular and nationalist lawyers, is accused of knowingly turning a blind eye to the human rights violations of Kurds and Gülenists for ideological reasons.

The Ankara Police Department is one of the places where torture is frequently practiced.

On January 17, human rights activists claimed on social media that dozens of people affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had been arrested by the police department’s counter-terrorism unit. of Ankara and that they had been tortured during their interrogation in the absence of their lawyers.

Relatives of those allegedly tortured have approached the Ankara Bar and asked for legal assistance to pursue the allegations. Accordingly, members of the Human Rights Center operating under the bar association went to the police department and interviewed the victims in custody for two days and compiled a report including the allegations of torture.

As human rights organizations waited for the report to publicize the torture allegations across the world citing the Bar Association, in a declaration dated January 26, the Ankara Bar Association announced that a criminal complaint would be filed regarding allegations of torture without going into details of the contents of the report.

According to reports confirmed by Nordic Monitor, the president of the Ankara Bar Association, Kemal Koranel, wanted to censor several statements from victims of being stripped naked and tortured with a foreign object. The Bar Association decided not to release the report following the lawyers’ refusal to suppress statements that management was trying to censor.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service, Koranel denied the censorship allegations. “We have done our part when it comes to human rights and freedoms. We filed a criminal complaint with the prosecution. To date, the Human Rights Center has prepared 13 similar reports. Only one of them has been published. We don’t have a procedure to release every report,” he said.

As the crisis related to the publication of the report has not been resolved, the President of the Human Rights Center of the Ankara Bar Association, Türmen, the Vice Presidents Gizay Dulkadir and Sercan Aran, the Secretary General Rumeysa Budak and center members Deniz Can Aydın and Nadire Nurdoğan tendered their resignations.

Dulkadir announced her resignation in a tweet that read: “I have resigned from my position as Vice President of the Center for Human Rights, believing that it is not possible to fight for human rights. man with the leadership of the Ankara Bar Association at the stage we are at.

Aran claimed that no legal justification was provided to them by the bar, saying, “We wanted our report to be shared with the public because we view the exhibit as an important method to address torture and ill-treatment. , and we care about public pressure. which will ensue. That’s why we asked for the publication of the report. However, this request was denied.

Human Rights Center Secretary General Budak said she resigned after coming up against a system unable to uphold even the most basic human rights principles, referring to the attitude of the bar.

According to information obtained by Nordic Monitor, the bar association also blocked a statement that imprisoned Kurdish MP Aysel Tuğluk has still not been released despite suffering from dementia. In addition, a newsletter containing summaries of lawyers’ assessments of European Court of Human Rights cases has been pending publication for over a month. Additionally, a statement about a group known as Saturday Mothers, which protests for their loved ones who have been kidnapped by the state, was also censored by the bar association.

Ankara Bar President Kemal Koranel with ultranationalist figures Müyesser Yıldız (top left) and Nihat Genç (top right)

In 2019, police in Ankara were once again in the hot seat over allegations of torture of diplomats and dismissed foreign ministry officials. However, at that time, the Ankara Bar Association promptly prepared a detailed report on the allegations and filed a criminal complaint, bringing the allegations to public notice.

It is clear that there has been a change of policy in the administration of the bar with the election of Koranel as president on December 8, 2021. The lawyers claim that Koranel’s ideological approach, which is close to that of the nationalist and strictly pro-secular groups, aggravate the crisis at the Ankara Bar Association, which was previously notorious for its zero-tolerance policy regarding human rights abuses.

“Your path is our path, our sun is your light,” Koranel wrote under a photo he tweeted following the vandalism of a statue of Ataturk in Samsun.

Law societies face government pressure

Bars across Turkey have been careful not to confront the Erdoğan government over rising human rights abuses that have taken place during a witch hunt launched following an attempted coup. controversial state in 2016. Immediately after the failed coup, hundreds of lawyers were detained and arrested for their alleged affiliation. in the Gülen movement.

A report by the Brussels-based The Arrested Lawyers Initiative titled The Crackdown reveals that more than 1,600 lawyers have been arrested and prosecuted, while 615 have been remanded in custody since 2016. Four hundred and seventy-four lawyers were eventually sentenced to a total of 2,966 years in prison for membership in an armed terrorist organization or for disseminating terrorist propaganda.

The ultra-secular Metin Feyzioğlu, former president of the Union of Turkish Bars, has been criticized by his colleagues for not resisting political pressure on lawyers. Although he was overwhelmingly supported by the government in the last union elections on December 5, 2021, the delegates elected Erinç Sağkan, former president of the Ankara bar association, as head of the union.

Ümit Kocasakal, the former president of the Istanbul Bar, one of the largest bar associations in the world, proudly admitted that the Istanbul Bar has not appointed lawyers to represent members of the Gülen movement despite the fact that the law required.

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