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Mass arrest of Turkish judges is a blow to democracy

UK lawyers and human rights campaigners call for fair trials as Turkey considers the death penalty

18 July 2016

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The removal of almost 3,000 of Turkey's judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of last weekend's failed military coup is a strike against democracy, British lawyers have argued.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to 'cleanse' the state of the 'virus' that led to elements of the military seizing Ankara and Istanbul on Saturday 16 July 2016.

Though the revolt was quickly defeated - due to a lack of public and opposition political support - the violence that unfolded last weekend left at least 265 civilians and soldiers dead and 1,000 wounded.

The day after the coup, Turkey's High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HCJP) announced the dismissal of 2,745 judges following allegations they were involved in the plot to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Ten members of the HCJP are among those detained in raids made across the country. Warrants have also been issued for 48 administrative court members and 140 members of Turkey's appeals court, it has been reported.

Two members of Turkey's constitutional court, Alparslan Altan and Erdal Tercal, have also been detained, leading human rights activists and opposition politicians to suggest the arrests are politically motivated and a chance for President Erdogan to purge critics of his rule. In 2014, Altan ruled that a state ban on Twitter was in breach of Turkey's constitution.

Of even more concern, the Turkish government is said to be considering a reinstatement of the death penalty - abolished in 2004 to allow for possible EU membership - to punish those involved in the uprising.

Writing on Twitter, Mehmet Müezzino?lu, the AKP's deputy leader, said: 'We will put forward a motion, which will demand the execution of those who have been involved in the coup attempt.'

Amnesty International's director for Europe, John Dalhuisen, said: 'Upholding human rights and the rule of law is the job of elected governments. The coup plotters in Turkey forgot this; it is crucial that President Erdogan and the authorities do not.

'Investigations and accountability should now begin, but this is no time for further rights regression in Turkey. Fair trials must be ensured and there must be no return to the death penalty in the country, which would deliver justice for no-one.'

In the UK, the Law Society and the Bar Council have expressed grave concerns about the dismissals. Robert Bourns, the society's new president, said: 'The prosperity of a country is intrinsically linked to the rule of law and to a strong, independent judiciary and legal profession.

'The rule of law enables business and is fundamental to the cohesion of a powerful and diverse society. Stable legal institutions, an independent judiciary, and a government accountable to the people are fundamental elements of a nation which is deeply rooted on the rule of law.'

Bourns continued: 'Given the importance of judicial independence, no member of any judiciary should be dismissed or suspended except for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties, in accordance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.'

Speaking on behalf of UK and Ireland Bar leaders, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said she was concerned about the possible implications for the rule of law in Turkey.

'We are reviewing the situation carefully and have reached out to other European Bar leaders to establish more information before determining our next response,' said the Bar chairman.

'This is not the first time this Turkish government has struck at the core of fundamental civil and democratic values,' Doerries added. 'The judiciary and legal profession in any jurisdiction should not and cannot fulfil their duties under the threat of arrest.'

In March, nine Turkish human rights lawyers, known for their work in representing minority groups and people accused of terrorism and crimes against the state, were arrested in dawn raids.

The day after the arrests, riot police attacked a group of lawyers during a press conference on the steps of the central criminal court in Istanbul.

The unprovoked police action was witnessed by members of an international delegation of lawyers from France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal
john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk
 @JvdLD