Turkey: Discontinue criminal investigations against Ankara and Diyarbakir Bar Associations

The Bar Human Rights Committee has joined a coalition of ten legal organisations in a joint letter to the President of Turkey expressing concern about criminal investigations launched in Turkey against the Ankara Bar Association and the Diyarbakir Bar Association for “openly disrespect[ing] the religious belief of a group” (article 126(3) of the Penal Code of Turkey) after the bar associations criticized the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Mr. Ali Erbaş for making public remarks that provoke hatred and hostility against LGBT people.

The joint letter expresses concern that these criminal investigations form part of a broader effort to undermine the independence of Bar Associations, and the legal profession more widely, in Turkey. The letter follows reports that authorities in Turkey have proposed to amend the legal framework concerning lawyers, change the election processes of Bar Associations and to establish alternative professional representation bodies. These measures and proposals, jointly and individually, represent an impermissible interference with the independence of the legal profession that has no place in a democratic society.

The joint letter reminded Turkish authorities of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and urged relevant authorities to:

  • Discontinue the criminal investigations launched against the Ankara Bar Association and the Diyarbakir Bar Association with immediate effect and take no further measures against these and other Bar Associations that interfere, or could interfere, with their independence; and
  • Withdraw all proposals to amend the legal framework concerning lawyers and other legislation or regulations that interfere, or could lead to interference, with the independence of the legal profession (either in respect of individual lawyers or lawyers’ professional representative bodies).

The signatories include:

The Law Society of England and Wales

Lawyers for Lawyers

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales

Norwegian Bar Association, Human Rights Committee

Bar Council of England and Wales

Paris Bar, Human Rights Institute

UIA-IROL (The Rule of Law Institute of the International Association of Lawyers)