Chair of Istanbul Bar Association, which ranks as the world’s largest bar association, Mehmet Durakoğlu, Attorney-at-Law, said prior to the Cumhuriyet trial to be held at Silivri, “We as the Republic owe Cumhuriyet newspaper a debt of justice. I very much want this debt to be paid on 9 March.” I spoke to Durakoğlu about the ruling body’s attack on the legal profession, the detained lawyers, the Cumhuriyet trial and unconscionable judicial decisions.
- How do you assess the attack on your profession in the form of statements that the words “Turkish” and “Turkey” will be removed from the names Turkish Medical Association and Union of Bar Associations of Turkey?
From where I stand, the political rulership is introducing a harsh measure on the judiciary. The other measure impacting on judges and prosecutors attained a statutory footing in 2010. The obstacle here are lawyers because lawyers are opposed to this project. They are somehow unable to accept that the legal profession is a profession of objection and, when called for, can cause a public stir. Indeed, we see a perception being promoted particularly under decrees with the force of law during the state of emergency that targets lawyers to a very significant extent. Whatever could possibly prevent lawyers from performing their duties at both the prosecution and investigation stage has been introduced under decrees with the force of law. We do not come from a culture that can bow and do homage. A seal was even placed on the Istanbul Bar Association’s door at the time of 12 September. This was to no avail. Istanbul Bar Association still remains in existence today. We have lived through martial law courts, State Security Courts and Special-Jurisdiction Courts. We now continue to live through states of emergency. The Istanbul Bar Association has given history glorious tales to tell in such special periods. These tales are the tales of the struggle to keep democracy alive.
Sword of Damocles
Ever since Montesquieu, political rulerships have never wished to remain within the bounds of the law. We know that, if the rule of law does not apply and ruling bodies do not remain within the bounds of their own law, there will be an unjust social order, and we have been explaining this for years. Whatever struggle has been called for in the cause of the rule of law prevailing in this country, the judiciary being impartial and independent and attaining the true supremacy of the law, we have been part of that struggle, and will continue to be. This is the reason for our existence. They are now trying to hold the sword of Damocles above our head. We will never look up. We have never had such a period.
Feyzioğlu has spoken to Yıldırım and Gül
- Union of Bar Associations of Turkey Chair Metin Feyzioğlu attracted an adverse reaction for failing to mention the duress on your profession in the speech he made at the Ordinary General Assembly on 24 February. How do you assess this?
I think Feyzioğlu’s speech was formulated within a context that spoke of the injustice of the reciprocation in the form of removing the word “Turkey” from the Union of Bar Associations of Turkey. And in addressing this injustice, he felt the need to speak about the position adopted by the Union of Bar Associations of Turkey until now. So, his speech veered considerably in this direction. He also made an assessment about our profession. Over the period from the outset of the process until the time that we were to hold a meeting, a process of dialogue brokered by Feyzioğlu had commenced with both Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül and Prime-Minister Binali Yıldırım. The Union of Bar Associations of Turkey adopted this stance, too, because it believes that the solution to this problem is in this dialogue process. I am not sure if the response to this should be gratitude or not. There is a big difference between our stance and the Union of Bar Associations of Turkey’s stance. The difference between us must also be treated with understanding.
- What is your assessment about the detained lawyers?
Pretty serious detentions are involved, especially in Istanbul. Sixteen of our colleagues from the People’s Law Office are in eight different prisons in seven provinces. This sort of isolation mechanism is being brought into play. We observe that a portion of the charges brought have professional connotations. We cannot see all the charges because the indictment has not been drafted. We have seen that a large part of the charges brought against lawyers detained on FETO grounds do not really have to do with the legal profession but, in particular, with their having ties to FETO. I do not wish to advance a general rule that lawyers are inviolable. But this is something that is not readily understood given our inability to establish the rule of law. The privileges bestowed on lawyers are not actually privileges given to lawyers. They are rights bestowed on the people’s freedom to seek their rights. Subsumed under the notion of the right of defence are many components. And those components are of value to the person we are defending. Starting with the obligation to maintain confidentiality and right up to revealing what we know at meetings we hold, these procedures have to do in their entirety with the freedom to seek rights. If you lay a finger on a lawyer, you are doing so on the right of defence.
We are the inn-keeper and rulerships are the wayfarers
We are the inn-keeper and political rulerships are the wayfarers. I say this so as to cover all periods of the Istanbul Bar Association. They have locked our door, thrown our chairs in jail and killed them and they have overthrown our administrative bodies in coup periods. We have always stayed put because we are a legal institution. We have no other wish apart from remaining within the law. Lawyers are the breath that gives voice. We know that if our voice is silenced, this will be the point at which citizens’ breath is choked off.
- What are your thoughts about potential regulations that dispense with the requirement to be a bar association member and envisage lawyers being members of the body of their choice? What will happen if this comes about?
This is a most wrong thing. It is a thing aimed at silencing us. There was a report compiled by the State Auditing Board at the time of Abdullah Gül’s presidency. How distressing that those who compiled this report were removed from their posts during the FETO investigations. They are not even civil servants now. This was basically a FETO project. There is discomfort felt by political rulerships at being unable to organise bar associations as they wish and there is an attempt to push for an arrangement under which everyone can establish their own bar association through splitting the bar associations as if this were a democratic demand. If you split the bar associations, more women will suffer violence, murders of women will increase, you will be unable to find anybody to intervene against abuse of children and you will be unable to find a force to intervene against environmental massacres. Most importantly, who will oppose rights violations in this country? The bar associations’ history is rooted in this basis.
THE ALTANS’ LIFE SENTENCE WILL BE REVERSED AT THE ECHR
- How do you assess the aggravated life sentences handed down to the Altans and Nazlı Ilıcak?
Taraf newspaper acted as an operator in the unjust implementations of all kinds in that period. However much I force myself to look at what they did through the prism of press freedom in the classic sense, I am unable to view this favourably. So, I think Ahmet Altan needs to be assessed differently. When it comes to Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, even though I do not feel any affinity towards their views, I cannot understand their having received such a sentence. I think these judgments will be reversed at the European Court of Human Rights. I think it is necessary to comply with this decision. To do otherwise would be an annihilation of the law.
I WILL GO TO SİLİVRİ WITH HOPE
- Finally, I want to mention the Cumhuriyet trial on 9 March. Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık are still in detention at the sixth hearing. What do you have to say?
I believe this trial collapsed at the very first hearing. In terms of the content of the trial as it is being prosecuted, it displays a political character rather than having a legal character. This is a trial of a special period. Just as happened at the time of 12 March and 12 September. These are trials whose political essence outweighs their legal essence. These trials from my point of view are like footnotes placed in history. The legal history of these trials will be written separately, as will their political history. The trial collapsed at the outset because too much store was placed on the newspaper’s editorial policy. I am a lawyer of thirty-five years’ standing and this is the first time I have witnessed a newspaper’s editorial policy being subjected to prosecution. This is an unacceptable thing. A newspaper’s editorial policy is the concern of its readers. No charge is raised, either. The prosecutor does not produce an answer to the question, “We changed the editorial policy. So what?” We also witness transformation processes at times at which the prevailing political set-up dominates the law. My desire is for 9 March to bring about such a transformation. I think this will affect not just the Cumhuriyet trial, but all the press trials in Turkey. We as the Republic owe Cumhuriyet newspaper a debt of justice. I very much want this debt to be paid on 9 March. I think this process I would like to see start may give rise to very important results in terms of the rule of law. I will go to Silivri with this hope.