Ten members of the Istanbul Bar Association appeared in court yesterday facing jail sentences of up to four years following their appeal to the judiciary to guarantee the right to a fair trial in the country.
The European Bars Federation has condemned the trial, which comes against the background of government actions against lawyers, police and judges, as an attack on the principles of separation of powers and the rule of law.
Istanbul Bar Association president Umit Kocasakal and nine board members have been indicted on criminal charges of ‘attempts to influence the court’ by requesting it, orally and in writing, to conduct the trial of 350 defendants according to the country’s law.
Kocasakal said: ‘We did not commit any crime. Our trial is totally political and its aim is intimidation. It is the political power that initiated the proceedings against us and it is the political power that will make the judgment.’
The 350 defendants, whose trial opened in February 2010, stood accused of preparing a military coup as part of the so-called sledgehammer conspiracy.
The defendants included retired and active senior officers of the country’s armed forces, some of whom received 20-year prison sentences. However the defendants’ defence lawyers claimed that agents of the state had seized their mobile telephones, listened in on conversations with their clients and subjected them to constant harassment.
When finally their clients were denied the right to plead, the defence lawyers refused to appear in court.
It was at this stage that the Istanbul Bar Association intervened and 10 of its members were indicted on the criminal charges. Their first appearance in court was scheduled for May last year and was to be witnessed by international observers before it was postponed, first to October and then to 7 January 2014.
The government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) is increasingly targeting lawyers, with the arrest of 15 human rights lawyers in January 2013 accused of ‘transferring instructions from organisation leaders in prison to militants [on the outside]’.
More than 50 lawyers were arrested in June 2013 after holding a protest in an Istanbul courthouse.
Erdogan has now turned his attention to the police, with reports emerging from Turkey that police chiefs in at least 15 of the country’s 81 provinces have been dismissed for allegedly ‘seeking to undermine his government’. The government is also reported to have submitted a bill to parliament that would give it more influence over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.