Just days after the much-celebrated announcement of a ceasefire by jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, a long running mass trial of 46 lawyers is set continue this week with the fourth hearing in Istanbul.
A delegation of four lawyers from the UK will travel to Istanbul to monitor the trial, which will take place on Thursday, 28 March. The delegation includes human rights barrister Margaret Owen OBE, a member of the Bar Human Rights Committee; Ali Has, solicitor-advocate and member of the Law Society’s international human rights team; barrister and representative of the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), Melanie Gingell; and lawyer Tony Fisher, a member of Law Society’s Human Rights Committee. They will be joining representatives of over thirty different international lawyers’ organisations who will also be monitoring the trial.
The case has attracted attention from international lawyers associations and human rights groups since the initial arrests in November 2011. Groups such as the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), Lawyers for Lawyers, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Law Society of England and Wales, have all sent international observers to previous hearings and have strongly criticised the trial as an attack on the independence of the legal profession in Turkey.
The lawyers were arrested as part of ongoing investigations into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), anti-terror police operations that have resulted in over 10,000 Kurdish journalists, elected members of parliament and local council, trade unionists, human rights activists and students arrested in the last three years.
The operations make use of Turkey’s widely criticised and notoriously ill-defined anti-terror legislation that facilitates the prosecution of entirely non-violent political dissent or Kurdish rights advocacy as an act of terrorism.
Most of the lawyers on trial this Thursday were members of Abdullah Ocalan’s legal team when they were arrested, and this forms the basis of the case against them. They have been charged with transmitting information from Ocalan to other members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the evidence against them is made up largely of illegally recorded conversations between the lawyers and their client.
At the time of their arrest, and up until late last year when peace talks began, Ocalan was being held in complete isolation in the prison island of Imrali, where he has been since 1999, and visits from any family member or legal representative had been prohibited since July 2011. The reason for this isolation was never made public.
The trial represents a flagrant violation of a key principle of international justice, which says that lawyers should not be identified with their client. Incredibly, rather than heed warnings from human rights groups, Turkish police have since arrested a further 15 lawyers, 9 of them members of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (CHD) who had been representing the original 46 on trial.
The President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, recently noted that these mass arrests demonstrate that ‘judicial harassment of lawyers in Turkey has become large-scale and systematic’. Margaret Owen OBE, who observed two of the previous hearings in this case, has also claimed ‘This is a political trial not a legal trial’, one which has ‘grave implications for Turkey’s democratic credentials’.
The trial will stand as a key test of Turkey’s potential for democratisation, especially given that the PKK announced this weekend that they will honour the ceasefire and begin to withdraw from Turkish territory. The cessation of military conflict will be the first step in a long process of reconciliation and democratisation, in which Turkey will be forced to address the consequences of decades of repression and the denial of basic rights: a prison and court system bulging with non-violent political prisoners; a police force better trained to brutalise Kurdish people rather than TO protect them, and inflated anti-terror legislation which, along with the Turkish constitution, has provided the basic legislative framework to justify the criminalisation of thousands of Kurds.
Contacts of the delegates:
Ali Has: 07932 374515, [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>
Margaret Owne: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>
Melanie Gingell: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>
Tony Fisher: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>
For further information contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Email: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Fax: 020 7263 0596
Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Conor Murphy MP, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Mark Thomas