Lawyers receive a combined prison sentence of 159 years

20 March 2019
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Cansu Pişkin, Evrensel
Photo Credit

İstanbul - Cansu Pişkin, In the trial where Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) and People’s Law Bureau (HHB) members face terrorism charges, the court announced its verdict in the absence of defendants who are in detention and their defense lawyers. All defendants were convicted; the lawyers received a combined prison sentence of 159 year 1 month 30 days.

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 today. Lawyers who are tried whilst in detention and their defense lawyers did not attend the hearing today. Defendants Ahmet Mandacı and Zehra Özdemir were present in the courtroom. They were accompanied by over 100 gendarmerie officers for security purposes. Among the observers were the relatives of defendants, 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, and Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner Milena Buyum.

Statements were heard in the absence of lawyers

During the second session of the third hearing (yesterday), the court adjourned the trial until 10:00 this morning in order to receive the defendants’ final statements in response to the accusations. Presiding Judge Akın Gürlek had the trial record show that defendants who are tried whilst in detention and their defense counsel had not showed up by 10:37. Gürlek then asked defendants Ahmet Mandacı and Zehra Özdemir to present their defense statements in response to the allegations. Mandacı said that his lawyer is also his spouse, and that she could not attend the hearing due to her pregnancy and that she had a medical excuse. Zehra Özdemir reminded the court that they had banned her lawyer Bahattin Özdemir from the hearing yesterday and that she cannot present her statement in the absence of her lawyer. Özdemir demanded her judicial control measure about having to check in at the police station twice a a week to be revoked. When asked for their final remarks, Mandacı and Özdemir said, “We would have preferred to present our defense statements in the presence of our lawyers,” and demanded their acquittal. The court gave a break until noon and stated that they would announce the verdict then.

Defendants requested the recusal of the panel of judges yesterday, but the court refused this request. Today, it was reported that the lawyers have filed an objection with the İstanbul 1st High Criminal Court, which is a superior court after the court (İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court) disregarded their demands for recusal.

The verdict was protested

Following the break, the panel of judges announced the verdict at 12:21 PM in the absence of the defendants who are tried whilst in detention and their defense lawyers. Those who were present in the courtroom to listen to the verdict were the two defendants, over 100 gendarmerie officers, relatives of the defendants, and members of the press. While the Presiding Judge was reading their ruling out loud, lawyers chanted “Revolutionary lawyers will not be surrendered,” from the outside and protested the court by applauding.

Two people’s files were separated

Presiding Judge Gürlek began reading the verdict by saying, “Since no other element is left to be examined, the public proceedings have come to an end.” The court decided to sentence defendants Ahmet Mandacı, Zehra Özdemir, Ayşegül Çağatay, Yağmur Ereren, Didem Baydar Ünsal and Yaprak Türkmen for “willingly aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.” The court ruled to reduce the sentences of Mandacı and Özdemir because they were present in the courtroom and gave them a 2 year, 13 month, and 15 days prison sentence. The court ruled to reduce the days they were detained from the initial sentence. With this verdict, the judicial control measures for both defendants were revoked but they received an international travel ban. The court did not reduce other defendants’ sentences and sentenced Çağatay, Ereren, Ünsal and Türkmen to 3 years and 9 months in prison. The court obeyed the Prosecutor’s opinion and ruled to separate the files of Oya Aslan and Günay Dağ since both are fugitives and their defense statement could not be taken; both lawyers’ prosecution will continue.

Timtik received 18 years in prison for “leadership”

Barkın Timtik, who was tried whilst in detention, was sentenced to 18 years and 9 months in prison for “leadership of a terrorist organization.” The court sentenced 11 other lawyers for “membership in a terrorist organization.” Özgür Yılmaz and Ebru Timtik, who have arrest warrants on their behalf, received 13 years and 6 months in prison. Şükriye Erden was sentenced to 12 years, Süleyman Gökten to 10 years and 6 months, Naciye Demir to 9 years and ruled to continue proceed with the arrest warrants. 

The court gave Behiç Aşçı 12 years, Selçuk Kozağaçlı 11 years and 3 months, Engin Gökoğlu and Aytaç Ünsal 10 years and 6 months, Ayçan Çiçek 9 years and ruled for the continuation of their detention. Ezgi Çakır, who was tried without detention, was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Since Çakır has a young child and her husband is a fugitive, the court decided to convert her sentence into house arrest.

“This trial turned the rule of law into an old rag”

Following the announcement of the verdict, defense lawyers held a press conference in front of the courtroom and gave the following statements:

Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) İstanbul Chairman Gökmen Yeşil: “Taking into custody, arresting, trying them before the court…None of these steps of the process had a legal aspect. A proper legal proceeding was not conducted. Those who executed the so-called proceedings were not in fact judges. They were civil servants who were appointed to read out loud the sentences that had been given long before the trial began. They walked into that so-called courtroom and gave our friends and colleagues incredibly grave sentences.”

President of the Şanlıurfa Bar Association, Abdullah Öncel: “As the Şanlıurfa Bar Association, we came all the way here to monitor a legal proceeding. However, we saw that there was nothing of the sort! We observed that the right to a fair trial was violated gravely, the presumption of innocence was breached too. It wasn’t just Selçuk Kozağaçlı and his friends who stood trial here; what stood trial was the practice of law in Turkey, all lawyers.”  

Defense lawyer Several Ballıkaya: “What is tragic is not these sentences but the state of legal proceedings and defense that we’ve come to. Since the day he was appointed to this court, Akın Gürlek stayed on target and focused on giving a sentence in this case. That was the only reason why he was appointed here. This court’s [İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court] conscience has withered. The court treated the defendants very roughly over the past three days although they know that they’ve been on hunger strike for the past 55 days. The court gave its verdict in the absence of any lawyers and defense statements, without collecting sufficient evidence or calling all witnesses in. This wasn’t a proper court. This sentence is like a punishment given to people who are chained in an internment camp. What Akın Gürlek did was to abolish the rule of law. However, we will continue with our struggle.”

Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Mahmut Tanal: “The court moved away from the humanist principles of law and applied law as if the defendants were the enemy. A verdict ruled by a court that sees its defendants as enemies cannot be legitimate. The right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence were violated. This trial had turned the rule of law and human rights into an old rag. A panel of judges should not have the power to play around with law like this. Those who fool around with law are in fact fooling around with fire, and that can burn one’s hand.”

On behalf of the international delegation that monitored the trial, Italian lawyer Fabio Marcelli: “We witnessed how principles of both common and international law were violated here. We saw how universal principles of law were destroyed. We saw that the right to an independent judge and the right to counsel were violated gravely. We believe that all defendants should be released immediately.”

Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) Secretary General Nergis Tuba Aslan: “This panel of judges, presided by Akın Gürlek who is appointed intentionally, had nothing to do with judgeship or law. Selçuk Kozağaçlı said it to their faces and I am repeating here, ‘Akın Gürlek and other members of the panel, the prosecutors who contributed to this case, all the police officers who were involved, they are members of a terrorist organization.”