Legal yesterday, crime today

Legal yesterday, crime today

Seven months ago today, 36 lawyers were arrested on charges of being “a member of an armed terror organization,” as part of the KCK operations. (KCK is the Kurdistan Communities Union, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.) Thus, the number of lawyers in jail has risen to 40.

Both in Turkish and in world history, this represents a first in the “collective arrests of lawyers.” The closest example is from South Africa in the 1990s, when 11 lawyers were arrested during the Apartheid regime.

However, the issue is not how many lawyers have been arrested. The issue is putting the profession of defense on trial and, while doing this, shelving the entire penal code by replacing the “presumption of innocence” with the “presumption of ‘guilty’ until verdict.” These are all against the “supra-national” principles of law.

Yesterday, a group of jurists held a press conference about the case regarding their colleagues. They explained about both the proceedings of specially authorized courts and the political and legal dimensions of the KCK operations.

Here are some notes about the case, the first hearing of which will be held on July 16:

From Fehmi Koru’s column:
* Some common features of the KCK operations are remarkable: Most of them are done at critical times, such as before elections or before any debate on justice packages. The case against the lawyers was opened when the Oslo negotiations [between representatives from the national intelligence organization and representatives from the PKK] collapsed.

* Searches are being conducted against the criminal justice code. Rules related to duration and what is being searched for are not applied. Everything -- from the phone books of lawyers to the files of other cases -- is seized. Whatever is seized from the suspect is then presented to the media.

* Seventeen different prosecutors have taken the statements of the arrested lawyers. However, the prosecutor who prepared the indictment was not present at the interrogations.

* The essential reason why the lawyers were arrested is because they have met with Öcalan. This is strange because all those meetings took place with the government’s knowledge. Those meetings that the state recorded, where the lawyers were searched from hair to teeth, those meetings that took place under the watch of the Justice Ministry are today deemed a crime…

* The arrested lawyers were questioned on why they had seen Öcalan, why they had contacted the lawyer of Nelson Mandela, as well as the subjects that the columnists Avni Özgürel and Fehmi Koru were talking about in their columns.

What are they charged with?
* In the indictment, the lawyers are charged with supporting democratic autonomy, bilingual citizenship, the right to education and the right to a legal defense in the defendants’ mother tongue. It is also deemed a crime that the concept of “martyrdom” was used in reference to Deniz Gezmiş and friends, and that the lawyers have published a joint printed announcement in a newspaper.

* In the construction of the case, there are confessor statements. However, in such cases, there also has to be material evidence.

* There is no concrete evidence of the charge that the lawyers were conveying Öcalan’s directives and that hundreds of people were killed because of these directives. Öcalan’s wish to testify on this topic was rejected.

The Dreyfus Affair
Jurists defending their colleagues believe that the lawyers were taken “hostage” after negotiations with Öcalan collapsed. According to them, this case will be “Turkey’s Dreyfus affair.”

Those who assume that this case only interests a limited constituency are wrong. A case that has suspended the rules of criminal and procedural laws is a threat to the right of defense and the profession of defense for all.

Record breaking participation expected
The lawyers have made a call for their colleagues to be released in November.

The case will be followed by more than 10 bar associations, including those of Ýzmir and Mersin, as well as several international organizations. The Istanbul Bar Association has yet to express its support. Nevertheless, some 1,500 people are expected to give powers of attorney and join the case; thus breaking a record.

Outside no different than ‘inside’
* The head of the southeastern province of Diyarbakýr’s Bar Association, Emin Aktar, has said that he always keeps his “prison suitcase” ready. “We are not discussing a criminal incident. We are talking about essential rights. There is intolerance against us, and there is also arbitrariness against us,” he said.

* In the courts, he added, limitations to “words that exceed the boundaries of defense” made them incapable of defending. Also, any requests for a translator or “the button hole” of their jacket were regarded as objects for accusing, he explained. “Outside is no different than the inside,” he said.

* Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-Deputy President, lawyer Meral Danýþ, said, “They do not exert much of an effort to file accusations either. In Bekir Kaya’s [one of the arrested lawyers] arrest, press releases and public rallies were presented as evidence. We marched in Diyarbakýr with our gowns, escorted by the police. One week later we were interrogated with the sentence: ‘You have spoken to the police.’”

Mehveş Evin is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on June 13. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.