Detained lawyers who are on hunger strike appear before court

18 March 2019
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İstanbul – Cansu Pişkin, Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) and People’s Law Bureau (HHB) members appeared before court on the 54th day of their hunger strike. They have started the hunger strike in order to draw attention to the unlawful proceedings witnessed during their trial.

Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and People’s Law Bureau (HHB) were shut down with a decree-law during the state of emergency in 2016. The third hearing of the trial where 20 lawyers who were members of these organizations, of whom 6 are detained, face “managing a terrorist organization” and “membership in a terrorist organization” charges resumed at the courtroom in the Silivri Penitentiaries Campus in Istanbul. Detained lawyers Selçuk Kozağaçlı, Engin Gökoğlu, Aycan Çiçek, Aytaç Ünsal and Barkın Timtik were present in the courtroom as well as lawyers who are tried without detention, Ezgi Çakır, Ahmet Mandacı, Zehra Özdemir, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Yağmur Ereren, Ayşegül Çağatay. There was a big turnout for the trial. Among the observers were Republican People’s Party (CHP) MPs Mahmut Tanal, Ali Haydar Hakverdi, Ali Şeker; Presidents of 16 Bar Associations across Turkey, lawyers from the European Democratic Lawyers (AED) and the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights (ELDH); lawyers from Italy, Belgium, Germany, France, and Greece. A paramedic team was kept ready in the courtroom for the lawyers who have been on hunger strike for the last 54 days. The lawyers have noticeably lost weight.

“Are we going to be tried with the personnel?”

While being brought into the courtroom, detained lawyers chanted “Revolutionary lawyers will not surrender,” “Down with fascism, long live our struggle.” Defense lawyers and audience members greeted the lawyers with applause. Referring to the gendarmerie officers sitting with them, lawyer Selçuk Kozağaçlı, who is being tried whilst in detention, said: “Personnel is sitting between the defendants. Are we going to be tried with the personnel? I demand the security forces to leave the courtroom.” The court produced an interim ruling, deciding that the gendarmerie officers shall stand on the sides instead of sitting with the defendants. The prosecutor had presented their opinion as to the accusations between hearings and demanded 18 lawyers to be punished for “membership in a terrorist organization” charges. The Prosecutor also requested the file of Günay Dağ and Oya Aslan to be separated since they could not be arrested thus far. After reminding the prosecutor’s opinion, Presiding Judge Akın Gürlek gave the floor to the defendants and their defense lawyers for their defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s opinion. President of the İzmir Bar Association Özkan Yücel took the floor and gave a statement on due process.

“Violation of the right to a fair trial”

Reminding the court that in the previous hearing it was decided that the panel of judges would evaluate the demand regarding the extension of prosecution, İzmir Bar Association President Yücel said, “I understand that you want to reach a decision as quickly as possible; however, my colleagues deserve a fair trial. Despite our request for the extension of the prosecution, you demanded the Prosecutor’s opinion with such stubbornness. In order to abide by the right to a fair trial, what the court must do at this point is to receive this request to extend the prosecution and give additional time for defense in response to the accusations.” Turkish Bars Association Executive Board Member Ali Elibol requested their attendance to be noted in the record of proceedings. President of the İstanbul Bar Association Mehmet Durakoğlu stated that 16 presidents from different Bar Associations across Turkey are attending the hearing after determining that the court is violating the right to a fair trial. Durakoğlu criticized the fact that the Prosecutor’s opinion was requested between hearings and said, “Our lawyer colleagues were forced to go on a hunger strike not because they are arrested or are being tried, but because they demand a fair trial. You need to abide by the interim decision that you had ruled in the previous hearing. The fact that such a trial is managed this way shows us how unfair these proceedings are.” Presiding Judge Gürlek interrupted Durakoğlu and warned him not to directly accuse the panel of judges. This attitude of the presiding judge was protested with applause from the audience. 

Demand to extend the prosecution is rejected

The Prosecutor demanded the lawyers’ request to extend the prosecution to be rejected on the grounds that the case had already progressed far enough. While ruling for an interim decision, the court stated that the lawyers had not presented a formal petition to extend the prosecution since the last hearing on 5 December 2018, further explaining that this was why the file was sent over to the Prosecutor on 10 January 2019 for the opinion to be prepared. Claiming that the court is abiding by its interim decision, Presiding Judge Gürlek ruled that the request to extend the prosecution would only drag the proceedings and rejected this request.

Evidence was not collected in accordance with standards

Lawyer Fehmi Demir noted that the lawyers had presented their petition to extend the prosecution and evaluate digital evidence via the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP) within the 35-day period. Demir reminded the court that evaluation of evidence could happen before the court per relevant legislation. Noting that the indictment is based entirely on witness statements including those from secret witnesses and digital evidence, Demir stated that the way witness statements were extracted was also unlawful. Demir stated that having İ.Ö. as a witness was unlawful since this individual has been employed as an intelligence personnel since age 10 and was discharged in 2006. He added that having other witnesses who aren’t even anonymous to give statements via SEGBİS video-link was also unlawful. Demir further claimed that the Presiding Judge Gürlek had asked leading questions to the witnesses.

“Witness in 141 cases”

Defendant Ebru Timtik’s lawyer Several Ballıkaya gave a statement about witnesses included in the file. Ballıkaya reminded that İ.Ö.’s statement was taken via SEGBİS video-link although this individual was not a secret witness, and that their first sentence was “I am a witness in many trials, which one is this, I don’t know.” Ballıkaya added, “This individual is a witness in 141 separate DHKP-C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front) cases and also serves in several FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization) cases. İ.Ö. had stated that they worked as an intelligence personnel within the organization between 1995 and 2005. However, the alleged crimes in this file were committed in 2013 and later. Furthermore, this individual has been convicted on attack with a knife, armed heist, depriving someone of their liberty charges and has been in either prison or in mandatory military duty for the past 10 years with the exception of a 2 or 3 months period. How did this individual end up becoming a high ranking official in any organization in such little time?”

“A case of 70 folders is being rushed to an end with 3 hearings”

Güray Dağ, who is a defense lawyer for defendant Özgür Yılmaz, criticized the court, claiming that they are violating the right to a fair trial: “These proceedings go nowhere near a fair trial. The Prosecutor has been napping since the very beginning, he is almost not here. But you are serving as a prosecutor too, Your Honor. The Code of Criminal Procedure entrusts the task to collect evidence for and against to the prosecutor. However, you surpass the prosecutor yourself and collect evidence only against the defendants. You ended this trial in your head. You are trying to rush a case of 70 folders to the finishing line with only 3 hearings and are clearly violating the right to a fair trial.”

The hearing will resume tomorrow for the second session

The court rejected the lawyers’ request to extend the prosecution and have new witnesses to be heard while reminding the previous interim decision. The court also claimed that the proceedings are being executed with due diligence and that the defense’s requests do not contribute to the proceedings; on the contrary, the court argued that the defense was attempting to drag the proceedings with such requests. The Presiding Judge stated that the second session of the hearing will resume tomorrow (March 19) at 10 AM with the defense statements in response to the opinion as to the accusations. The lawyers protested the court’s decision by clapping hands.