PRESS RELEASE. JUNE 21st, 2013
International delegation observing lawyers trial 20 June in Istanbul
Today we, the undersigned, being a delegation of lawyers from five European countries, observed the fifth hearing, on the 20th June, 2013, of the trial of 46 lawyers, our colleagues, who face prosecution for being members of an illegal organisation, allegedly in the course of undertaking their professional duties, i.e acting as defence lawyers for the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
While the procedures used by the authorities leading up to the arrests, for example, seizure of confidential and privileged documents including client files, unlawful and unwarranted phone tapping and intercepting of private correspondence including emails, violate internationally acknowledged standards in human rights law, we are concerned that the hearings themselves breach the various criteria to be complied with to ensure that trials are “fair”. The defendants have had very limited opportunities to challenge the prosecutor’s evidence which has appeared most speculative and flimsy, but when they have done, they have exposed the indictments as being more often in the realm of fantasy than of fact.
The persistent and common use of “pre-trial detention” coupled with the refusal by the Ministry of Justice or the presiding judge to allocate more than one single day to these hearings means that the trial of the lawyers is adjourned time after time, with intervals of three months between each hearing, so that the defendants, innocent and not convicted, are made to spend many months, even years, in prison.
This treatment we consider to be not only excessively punitive, causing extreme trauma to the lawyers and their families. Also, these constant adjournments hinder the delivery in court of an effective defence to the charges in the indictments.
In addition, of concern to the delegation was the reliance by the Prosecutor on a witness statement which that witness later retracted, stating that it was made under police duress, and that the words in the statement were not his own. The defence requested that the first, and now retracted, statement be removed from the evidence file since it formed one of the main grounds for the indictments, but this request was refused.
Since the principal witness for the defence is Abdullah Ocalan, whom the Prosecutor accuses of employing the defendants in his “Leadership Organisation”, the defence has asked, at every hearing including this last one, that he should be called to be cross-examined in court, and prove to the judge that no such body exists and that his lawyers were never instructed by him to promote any acts of terrorism or act against the State. This demand was also rejected.
To conclude, the international delegation regards these trials as “political”, and deplores, in the strongest terms, the obstacles, such as the constant adjournments and delays, to the defendants obtaining a “fair trial” that complies with international standards. It also regards the arrests, indictments, and detentions of the lawyers as clear breaches of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Lawyers. The rights of citizens to be defended, the presumption of innocence before a criminal conviction, the right to bail, the rights of lawyers to go about their professional duties without harassment, and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental to the establishment and continuation of a democracy.
These lawyers were simply doing their job. The release from custody of a further seven lawyers, leaving now only fifteen in prison, does not reduce our concern. All should be released and allowed to return to their offices to take up again their professional duties as lawyers, to the benefit of society generally, and the charges dropped.
We will be present at the next hearing on September 17th.
UK Bar Human Rights Committee
Barreau d’Angers – Barreau de Bordeaux – Barreau des Hauts de Seine
Barreau de Paris – Barreau de Rennes – Barreau de Rouen – Barreau de Toulouse
Conseil National des Barreaux – France
Conférence des Bâtonniers de France et d’Outre-Mer
Conference des barreaux de l Ouest
Fédération Nationale de l Union des Jeunes Avocats
Fair Trial Watch – Hollande
Institut des Droits de l’Homme du Barreau de Grenoble
Institut des Droits de l’Homme du Barreau de Montpellier
Republikanischer Anwältinnen und Anwälteverein
Syndicat des Avocats de France
Union Internationale des Avocats
Union des Jeunes Avocats –France-
Vereinigung Berliner Strafverteidiger e.V.
Contact UK delegates:
Margaret Owen: Margie O <[email protected]>
Melanie Gingell: Melanie Gingell <[email protected]>
Ali Has: Ali Has <[email protected]>