By Severin Weiland

30 November 2012

Translated from German original which was published by “Der Spiegel”.

It is a symbolic action: Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has awarded one of the most important prizes for lawyers to a man who has been held in custody for three years. The German FDP politician appealed to Ankara to end the imprisonment of Muharrem Erbey.

Berlin – Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has awarded the Ludovic-Trarieux Prize, one of the most important human rights prizes for lawyers, to Muharrem Erbey, who is in prison in Turkey. He has been in prison for three years, not until September was the trial against him begun.

The FDP politician declared at the award ceremony in Berlin’s Court of Appeal: “Human rights cannot defend themselves. They need a good defence. The law of the strongest can only be met by the rule of law.” She said that lawyers around the world are indispensable defenders of human rights, of procedural law for the accused, of the freedom of opinion, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to practise a religion. “The imprisonment of Muharrem Erbey for almost three years shows how defending human rights is tied with so many dangers in many countries,” said the FDP politician, indirectly criticising the Turkish judicial system.

“It would be good if the prize could also soon be handed over to the winner in person. I call on those responsible in Turkey to examine whether it is not possible to end the imprisonment. Almost three years of remand in custody before the start of a trial is legally unacceptable,” continued Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

The lawyer was arrested on 24th December 2009 and has been in prison ever since. In September this year the trial against him began, in which he is accused of propaganda against the Turkish state through abuse of his profession as a lawyer, and membership to a terrorist organisation. The Turkish lawyer has fought for human rights in his country since the end of the 1990s. In 2008, he was acting chairman of the most important human rights organisation in Turkey, the IHD. Erbey has published reports on violations of human rights and essays on democracy and constitutionality.

The international Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize is awarded every year to a lawyer who works for human rights and constitutionality and against racism and intolerance. The first prize was awarded to Nelson Mandela in 1985. In 1898, at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, Ludovic Trarieux founded the Human Rights League. The award ceremony takes place alternately in Bordeaux, Paris, Brussels, Luxembourg and Berlin, where the awarding human rights organisations are based, amongst others in Berlin’s Court of Appeal. It is also following the trial against Erbey in Turkey.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had recently visited Turkey. “I discussed the far too lengthy imprisonment and the constraints on legal rights in Turkey, over many talks during my trip. I hope that the prize is further encouragement to change something,” the politician said, reminding the government in Ankara to change.