TURKEY : International monitors to observe fifth hearing in mass trial of lawyers

A delegation of lawyers from the UK arrives in Turkey today to observe a mass trial of 46 lawyers in Istanbul.

Human rights barrister Margaret Owen OBE, Bar Human Rights Committee member and barrister Melanie Gingell, and solicitor Ali Has, member of the Law Society, will join dozens of other international monitors from across Europe to observe the hearing at Silivri Prison Complex, which hosts the largest courthouse in Europe, on Wednesday 20 June.

The observers will witness the fifth hearing in a long running political mass trial of 46 lawyers who have been accused of supporting terrorism and being members of an illegal organisation. All the defendants had acted as legal representatives for imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, although some had not even met him in person. It is for this work that the lawyers are being persecuted.

The trial in the midst of an ongoing crisis for the Turkish government, as hundreds of security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas once again on Monday night in an attempt to clear Taksim Square of anti-government protesters. It also comes less than a week after another few dozen lawyers were temporarily detained by police during a rally in Çağlayan Court condemning the violent crackdown of the protests.

The trial has already been heavily criticised for breaching international law and violating their rights, as set out in the UN principles on the role of lawyers, to work without being associated with the crimes of their clients.

Previous hearings have revealed a litany of abuses on the part of the Turkish judiciary in the prosecution of these lawyers, including illegal wiretapping of confidential lawyer-client meetings and other forms of covert surveillance.

This trial is one of dozens of ongoing mass show trials of Kurdish intellectuals and activists in Turkey. Since 2009, over 8,000 people have been arrested in the name of the KCK investigations – counterterrorism operations that in reality have little to do with countering terrorism, but rather have been used as a means of criminalising peaceful dissent and Kurdish political and cultural expression. The thousands of political prisoners now in jail as a result of these investigations, including the lawyers, have been discussed as a critical issue in peace talks between PKK leadership and the Turkish government.