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January 22, 2013, Tuesday

Why were the lawyers arrested?

We know that the Ministry of Justice is planning to introduce a new law reform package that will amend the notorious Anti Terror law, which has an extremely wide definition for a member of a terrorist organization, aiding and abetting it and so on.

Instead of seeing the introduction of this legal reform, we witnessed the apprehension and arrest of human rights lawyers within the context of a larger operation against the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). There is no doubt that the DHKP/C is an old fashion Marxist terrorist organization which recourses violence very frequently and attacks blind targets that are randomly chosen. They are famous for their attacks on police stations. It is not possible to excuse their violent methods and acts of terrorism for any reasons or on any grounds. However, when it comes to arresting lawyers within the context of the operations against this organization, we come to quite a dangerous terrain that requires scrutiny and attention.


On Monday 10 lawyers were arrested and put in prison in İstanbul. Accusations against them vary from being a member of the DHKP/C to relaying orders from the directors to the members of the organization. These lawyers are also members and directors of a well known and respected human rights non-governmental organization (NGO), the Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD). This association and these lawyers helped endless numbers of victims who suffered torture and extrajudicial killings by the police and other law enforcement officers. Within the context of the operations against these lawyers, some branches of the ÇHD were also raided and the police seized many documents from these offices.


The accusations that were brought against the lawyers and their arrest seem to be quite problematic to me. Even if we assume that police have solid evidence against the suspect lawyers to accuse them of being members of a terrorist organization, their arrest is disproportionate to any aim they allegedly sought achieve.

Selçuk Kozağaçlı, the president of the ÇHD, was in Lebanon when the operation against the lawyers became public and made headlines in the media. He sent a message to media and said that he would cut short his visit and return to Turkey to face the accusations against him. He was also arrested on the grounds that there was a legitimate suspicion that he may leave the country; if he had the slightest intention of leaving the country, he would not have returned to Turkey and surrendered himself to the police.


This last operation of police and subsequent arrest of the lawyers touches on three dangerous areas. The lawyers are being arrested in connection with the crimes attributed mainly to their clients. So there is a suspicion of them being arrested for their professional work. These people are also human rights defenders and their arrests appear to be quite problematic under international provisions protecting human rights defenders. The police raids on the offices of the ÇHD is a clear intervention of the right to organize. All these interventions can only be legitimized when there are serious accusations of committing serious crimes and only when these accusations are based on concrete and solid evidence.


In old Turkey, when there was a strong guardianship of the military over the system, soldiers used to label the people with whom they had some problems as "internal enemies," while in the new Turkey there may be a new habit of labeling people as "suspects" when they carry out activities that irritate people in power. Are we really changing, or are we just changing which people will have the authority to label others. 

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