Information file on the KCK trial of Kurdish lawyers in Istanbul, November 2012

Delegation facilitated by Peace in Kurdistan campaign in response to an appeal for international support from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)

Contents : 1. Joint statement by international trial observers – 2. Press release, Peace in Kurdistan campaign, 5 November 2012 – 3. Trial of Kurdish Lawyers in Turkey: Monitoring by Margaret Owen – 4. Follow up report by Tony Fisher – 5. Follow-up report by Melanie Gingell – 6. Follow-up report by Bronwen Jones 

1. Joint Statement by international observers of the Lawyer’s trial

We, as international lawyers representing the undersigned organisations, were in Silivri (Turkey) to observe the continuation of the trial of our colleagues: 46 Kurdish lawyers and 3 members of their staff.

We summarise our concerns around the following issues;

The first hearing for this trial, which started in July 2012 in Istanbul, was monitored by these international lawyers also.

On the 6th November 2012 we observed the second hearing in Silivri/Istanbul. The dominant issue for the court, the right to use the Kurdish language in defending the indictment charges was yet again denied. This was despite submissions advanced by the defence lawyers and the proposed new changes in the law by the ministry of justice relating to the use of the mother tongue in the law courts.

The right to use the mother tongue has been a central issue in this trial (as in other KCK trials). Its prohibition has recently led to hundreds of Kurdish prisoners joining unlimited hunger strikes in protest. Several of the hunger strikers have now reached their 58th day and are nearing death. On the 6th November we learnt that the lawyers on trial have also now joined the hunger strikes, as have another one thousand political prisoners. The defence lawyers advanced arguments for the use of the Kurdish language as a means of ending the continuing hunger strikes and saving lives. They requested the release of the prisoners, in view of the new law on mother tongue use proposed by the Minister of Justice.

All these arguments were rebutted.

However, the continued denial of the Court to recognise this right led to the defence lawyers walking out of the court room as a protest against the decision, and the trial halted. The Judge continued the trial without the presence of the defence lawyers, which is against Turkish law.

Other aspects in the management of the hearings that we observed are not consistent with the principles which govern the right to a fair trial:

         The lawyers were not able to see their clients, let alone speak with them, because of the ranked lines of guards standing between them to block their way.

         The families of the detained lawyers were unable to attend the proceedings, because the court was too small, even though the hearing was removed to a the court room in Silivri.

         The trial lasted less than 2 hours;

         When detained lawyers attempted to speak in Kurdish, the microphone was turned off.

We, the international observers, express our grave concern that the Court has adjourned the trial to the 3rd January 2013. We would remind the Turkish authorities that the European Convention on Human Rights requires Turkey to come to decisions within a reasonable time frame – especially when the defendants are in detention – in order not to unnecessarily extend their custody, which, in this present case, is an extremely urgent issue since the lawyers are now on hunger strike.

Our organisations express, at the close of this hearing, their deepest concern about the way the trial is proceeding, and about the total lack of respect of the fundamental guarantees of the rights of the defence. They call upon the Turkish authorities to take prompt action in order to remedy these irregularities, as well as to ensure that the internationally recognized principles of a fair trial are complied with.

-European Democratic Lawyers (EDL / AED)  – -European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH)  – -International Association of People’s Lawyers -Solicitors International Human Rights Group (UK)  – -Lawyers for Lawyers (Netherlands)  – -Bar Association of Amsterdam – -Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)  – -Alternative Intervention of Lawyers – Athens, Greece – -Fair Trial Watch (Netherlands)  – -Progress Lawyers Network (Belgium)  – Lawyers Without Borders (Sweden)  – Deutscher Anwalt Verein (DAV)/Germany – Peace in Kurdistan UK – Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales – -Vereinigung Demokratischer Juristinnen und Juristen, VDJ – -Demokratische Juristinnen und Juristen der Schweiz, DJS – Republikanischer Anwältinnen- und Anwälteverein, RAV


Peace in Kurdistan Campaign – PRESS RELEASE 5 November 2012

Leading UK lawyers to observe anti-terror trial in Istanbul

A delegation of several prominent lawyers from the UK has arrived today in Turkey to observe a major anti-terror trial in Istanbul. The delegation, which includes international human rights lawyers Margaret Owen OBE, Melanie Gingell, Bronwen Jones, and Ali Has as well as Tony Fisher, member of the Law Society’s Human Rights Committee, will spend three days observing the lawyers’ trial on 6 November and meeting with members of the defendants’ legal team.

On trial in this landmark case are 36 lawyers who have been charged with terrorism-related offences. The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which the lawyers are accused of being members of, is considered to the ‘urban wing’ of the prohibited PKK.

Dozens of international lawyers and members of bar associations who observed the first hearings of this case in July, have expressed grave concern over the legality of the trial.  As Tony Fisher states, “It is incredibly important that the international legal community shows it support for the Kurdish lawyers to ensure that proper respect is given to their right to a fair trial and to their right to practice their profession without interference by the state. I am delighted to be representing the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales on this mission.”

As all of the lawyers were members of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s legal defence team, the lawyers stand accused of ‘membership’ or ‘support’ of terrorism, for defending their client’s rights in what is a highly politically sensitive case. This trial is one of several on-going mass political trials in Turkey in relation to the KCK investigations. Turkey’s widely criticised and dangerously broad anti-terror legislation has led to around 10,000 Kurds being arrested since April 2009 and charged with membership of the KCK, including elected Kurdish deputies, local mayors and councillors, journalists, trade unionists, students and prominent academics.  In one of the major KCK trials, 205 people are being tried, while in September, 44 journalists from a variety of Turkish and Kurdish media also stood trial for association with the KCK. Several hundred of those still detained are on hunger strike to protest their criminalisation and the refusal of the Turkish government to engage in peace talks with Ocalan.

Margaret Owen, who observed the first hearings in July, says, “This is a “political” not a legal trial. While there are many KCK (alleged urban arm of the PKK) trials going on at the present time in Turkey, involving politicians, academics, journalists, trade unionists and civil society activists, this trial has grave implications for Turkey’s democratic credentials and her reputation as a suitable applicant to the EU because it is a trial of lawyers.”

She continues: “We hope to galvanise the international community to protest against the manipulation of the justice system by the Turkish authorities for political ends. We also are deeply concerned by the plight of the hundreds of hunger strikers among the political prisoners, many of whom are now facing death.”

For information contact:

Peace in Kurdistan – Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question

Email:  – Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie  Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890 – Fax: 020 7263 0596