ANKARA 4 JULY 2017.
A delegation of politicians and lawyers from the UK attempted to observe the first hearing in the trial on terrorism related charges of Figen Yuksekdag, the former Co-Chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Ankara on 4 July 2017. The delegation was subjected to police harassment throughout the day and eventually denied entry to the hearing in breach of well-established international legal principles. The hearing took place in the absence of any international observers and was eventually adjourned to 18th September without bail.
During the morning of 4 July, the delegates were stopped and ordered to leave their vehicle in the middle of the highway close to the Constitutional Court where they were due to attend a Press Conference. The delegation together with delegates from across Europe were held by heavily armed riot police at the side of the road for nearly an hour before being allowed to re-join their vehicle.
At the court building the hearing was delayed for over two hours while negotiations were conducted with the authorities in order to try to gain access to the hearing. Permission to enter the court was eventually granted to 5 delegates. These delegates were summarily ejected from the courtroom approximately 5 minutes later, following an intervention by the Ministry of Justice, thus revealing the influence of the executive and the lack of independence of the judiciary
It is a long-established principle of law that trials should be independent and impartial, should be held in public, and that justice must be seen to be done. These principles are enshrined in the following international human rights instruments to which Turkey is a signatory.
Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing… of any criminal charge against him.”
Article 11 adds that “everyone charged with a personal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial…”.
Moreover, Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that:
In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
The delegation is deeply concerned that Ms Yuksekdag will not receive a fair trial given the clear influence of the executive on the proceedings and the consequent inability of the tribunal to take independent decisions in the course of the trial.
Ms Yuksekdag was arrested in the early hours of the morning during a police raid at her home in Ankara on 4th November 2016 and has remained in custody awaiting her trial on terrorism related charges.
The definition of terrorism in the Turkish legal system is notoriously widely drawn and has been subject to intense criticism by international bodies including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. The Constitutional Commission of the EU (The Vienna Commission) for example has examined criminal law provisions relevant for freedom of expression and found that “these articles “provide for excessive sanctions and that they had been applied too widely, penalising conduct protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular its Article 10 and the related case-law as well as conduct protected under Article 19 ICCPR”.
Ms Yuksekdag was an elected Member of Parliament for the HDP and the Co-Chair of the party serving alongside Selahattin Demirtas. She represented the district of Van since her election in June 2015 until her parliamentary membership was revoked by legal order on 21st February 2017 following a conviction on a charge of distributing terrorist propaganda. Yuksekdag and Demirtas were both charged following the unconstitutional lifting of Parliamentary Immunity in Turkey on 20 May 2016.
Ms Yuksekdag pleaded not guilty to all charges and her hearing was adjourned to 18th September 2017, without bail. She made a powerful speech in the course of the hearing in which she stated that if she were to be given a second chance she would do the same again:
“They demand 100 years ! If I had more lifetimes, I’d still do the same things. We’ve a cause of democracy and peace, worthy of a century.”
The HDP has stated that the continued prosecution of its co-leaders is politically motivated and is aimed at targeting and punishing the legitimate opposition in Turkey. The delegation was unable to speak to any representatives of the judicial authorities in the course of their visit.
The UK delegation included Ibrahim Dogus ( Labour Party), Makbule Gunes (Labour Party) Ali Gul Ozbek ( Labour Party) Melanie Gingell (Peace in Kurdistan).
For further comment please contact:
Ibrahim Dogus : +447876 146557
Ali Gul Ozbek: +447904242683
Melanie Gingell: +447572430903