MLSA holds roundtable with media and human rights lawyers

24 May 2018
Hasan Uçar
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Turkey's rights lawyers agree to exchange tactics and strengthen solidarity and also question if it is time to look for international mechanisms more effective than the European Court

The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), which recently launched a Rights Defenders Network bringing together lawyers representing journalists from various backgrounds as well as victims of other free speech violations, held a roundtable meeting to strategize about the ongoing judicial assault on the Turkish press. 

The second meeting of the network was held on 21 May at Istanbul’s Cezayir Restaurant. 

The participants, including Şahin Alpay’s lawyer Aynur Tuncel and Cumhuriyet journalists’ lawyer Bahri Belen, discussed a wide variety issues including recent rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and possible concrete steps to cooperate and strengthen solidarity. 

Lawyers that represent other victims of Turkey’s deteriorating democracy, including pioneering women’s rights lawyer Hülya Gülbahar also attended the discussion. 

Database of court documents
Lawyer Hürrem Sönmez suggested creating a database summarizing the state of legal proceedings regarding important press and freedom of speech trials. 

MLSA Legal Department head Veysel Ok promised offering international support for ECtHR applications. 

Bahri Belen suggested organizing bi-monthly meetings on specific cases where lawyers can describe the course of a certain trial, allowing others to question what other solutions might be used when dealing with a certain case. 

Aynur Tuncel, who spoke at length about the proceedings in the trial of journalist Şahin Alpay, which saw a host of injustice including lower courts refusing to release Alpay in spite of a Constitutional Court decision for his release, said a Constitutional Court and a ECtHR ruling on Turkish journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan didn’t strengthen journalists rights in Turkey. 

She also said she doubted Alpay, Altan and other journalists’ applications would have been given priority by the European Court if international organizations hadn’t supported it. 
Is the European Court not worth it anymore?
Women’s rights lawyer Hülya Gülbahar said: “I think it is very important to have such a platform. I think the most important thing is creating a database.” Gülbahar also agreed with criticism towards the ECtHR. She said the bureaucrats in Europe, as well as the judiciary, are more worried about their own future -- seeing Turkey as a cautionary example of how institutions can be eroded -- than about Turkey at the moment. 

The participants also criticized the Court’s decision to accept a non-legal commission established by Turkey to review exemptions from public service that came under the State of Emergency as a viable domestic remedy.


Gülizar Tuncer, a human rights lawyer who has filed a large number of cases for sick inmates both domestically and at the ECtHR , said the European Court seemed to work in tandem with the Constitutional Court. She said due to a tendency of the court to rid itself of its work load, a large number of violations are going unpunished. 

The lawyers also discussed the possibility of seeking justice at other international mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Commission. 

Yıldız İmrek, an experienced rights lawyer, said meetings among lawyers to share strategies and precedents are very important. 

The lawyers also discussed what technical topics will be most interesting to talk about during a planned visit to legal professionals and lawyers in Berlin in November.