Some thirty lawyers who defend Turkey's threatened journalists, academics, and Boğaziçi university students, as well as representatives of the countries leading journalism and rights groups, came together on 13 April in an event hosted by the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF).
The lawyers discussed a number of topics including establishing a formal network to facilitate experience sharing, information about ongoing cases, monitoring and reporting on violations as well as finding other ways of collaboration to galvanize international support, particularly for imprisoned journalists.
In opening remarks, MLSA head Evin Barış Altıntaş said: "We are holding this meeting as MLSA, an association founded by seasoned journalists and lawyers who have been active in the fields of access to justice, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right to information. Our primary goal is to bring journalists and jurists together.
Unfortunately, given Turkey's performance in terms of free speech in recent times, we are finding that this is getting increasingly important." She said it was a priority for MLSA to ensure equal access to law and justice for any journalist, regardless of their political views, ideology, past approaches to political issues, statements, articles or other writings.
Access to justice
MLSA co-founder Veysel Ok who addressed his colleagues said the next step in the attempt to form a core Press Lawyers Network would be holding a roundtable to identify concrete agenda items and later a visit with European legal professionals to exchange opinions and expand the web of solidarity. He also said the network would over time be expanded to include all regions in the country.
Ok said: "It is time that we get together for identifying common strategies, international advocacy, reporting on violations, offering defense support to each other's clients, sharing tactical information and ensuring wider access to justice for a wider segment of journalists and others."
Describing MLSA's work supporting both free speech lawyers and victims of violations, Ok said MLSA prioritized the support of international organizations, adding that he believed European legal experts could play a role which facilitates processes regarding the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) applications of Turkish journalists.
Eren Keskin: Our team doesn't have nearly enough time for high court applications
Speaking at the event, veteran human rights lawyer Eren Keskin said such an initiative was much needed. "We have about 153 cases and we realized that we weren't able to file a Constitutional Court application in most of them simply because our colleagues don't have enough time. We could really use support in areas like that."
Journalist Murat Aksoy, who was released in October from prison after 14 months, also spoke at the event, thanking all the lawyers who supported him and his family during his detention and arrest. Aksoy, who was convicted on charges of "aiding a terrorist organization" in a trial where 25 journalists faced terror charges, said: "We had many meetings with the founders of MLSA. The support our families received while we were in prison was immense. However, this has decreased a little. We have many colleagues in the southeast of the country and in other provinces who are facing even more difficult circumstances. Once they get out of jail, another sort of imprisonment starts in terms of finding work and practicing journalism. This is something all organizations need to think about and maybe it can be an area to consider for conducting solidarity work."
Human Rights Associaton (İHD) İstanbul branch President Gülseren Yoleri said strengthening solidarity at this time is very important. She also said she believes such alliances are necessary, adding: "Freedom of expression violations are among the most widely occurring violations in the areas where İHD works. It is impossible for us to monitor all trials but we publish regularly on freedom of expression violations across the country. Reports that are translated into other languages have helped attract the attention of international organizations." She also said it would be immensely helpful to have allies where İHD can refer applicants and calls for help.
Participants of the event
Nearly forty lawyers, journalists and civil society representatives attended MLSA's first event held at Cezayir Restaurant including individuals from the Human Rights Association (İHD), the Eğitim Sen teachers' professional union, Helsinki Citizens' Association, Birgün Newspaper, the Union of PUblishers, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Turkish Journalists' Union as well as individual lawyers defending journalists, academics and Boğaziçi university students in various trials and investigations.