Several lawyers, including a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), have resigned from their posts as the Ankara Bar Association allegedly refused to release a report prepared by its Human Rights Centre (HRC) on practices of torture and mistreatment in police custody.
The crisis within the bar started in January, and on the 4th of February, five lawyers from the HRC announced their resignations, accusing the administration of censoring witness and victim statements.
On Wednesday, HRC chairman Rıza Türmen, former ECHR judge and member of the Turkish parliament, also resigned. Türmen has not yet made a statement on his reasons for leaving his position.
The other bar members who resigned were HRC secretary general Rumeysa Budak and vice chairs Gizay Dulkadir and Sercan Aran, and Bar Council members Deniz Can Aydın and Nadire Nurdoğan.
The report in question, completed on the 25th of December last year, was based on statements by witnesses who said they had been subjected to torture while they were in custody in the Ankara Police Department on suspicion of membership in FETÖ, the name Turkish authorities use for followers of Fethullah Gülen whom Turkey holds responsible for the 15th of July coup attempt in 2016.
“In the report there were statements by individuals and descriptions of torture methods used. It also included information on how procedures should be handled in terms of international law against torture and mistreatment,” Sercan Aran told Mezopotamya Agency on Thursday.
It was the most recent instalment of a series of reports the Ankara bar had been preparing since 2019, Aran said. According to the lawyer, the bar administration posed some questions on how the report was prepared but did not provide a lawful reason for not releasing it publicly.
“When reports we prepare as the Ankara Bar Association’s Human Rights Centre, it creates public pressure and prevents mistreatment. Our purpose in the most recent report was to draw the public’s attention to allegations of torture again,” he added.
“We have done our duty on human rights and freedoms. We pressed charges based on the report on the torture allegations. To date, the HRC has prepared 13 similar reports, only one of which has been made public. On Monday, we do not have a routine of publishing reports in our guidelines,” Ankara Bar Chairman Kemal Koranel told Deutsche Welle Turkish.
Other recent issues in the capital’s bar association included the bar administration removing the sentence, “Forced disappearances under custody will be closely monitored,” from a press release by the HRC regarding a trial against the Saturday Mothers, who have been demanding answers from authorities for 27 years on the fate of their loved ones who were forcibly disappeared by state forces.
The administration also refused members’ requests to issue a statement on the health of former Kurdish deputy Aysel Tuğluk, who was diagnosed with dementia after several years behind bars. Tuğluk’s condition has been deteriorating, but authorities have refused to release her despite medical reports saying she cannot continue her life in prison conditions.
“The board told us that there would be no direct statements on any given individual. Then, when journalist Sedef Kabaş was arrested, the bar issued a statement. There is a discrepancy between what we were told and what actually was done. This points to a deeper problem,” Aran said.
“The HRC has been prevented from functioning by the majority of the board for some time now. This state of effectively not being able to function goes even beyond failing to take necessary action against torture allegations,” lawyer Nadire Nurdoğan said.
“If the bar is not going to fulfil its duty to direct public attention and chose to remain stagnant in terms of human rights, we cannot say it is fighting for human rights,” she added.
Gizay Dulkadir pointed to drift away from human rights advocacy in the bar.
In addition to the disinterest in Tuğluk’s case and the censoring of the Saturday Mothers statement, Dulkadir also said the bar administration delayed a report on the ECHR’s December 2021 rulings because it included rulings against Turkey. In another incident, a text about rights violations concerning military academy students was removed from the bar newsletter on human rights.
“I say this with sorrow, we have seen that all our efforts for 10 days to find a solution were falling on deaf ears. We witnessed the Ankara Bar Association administration completely drifting away from fighting for rights,” Dulkadir said.
Meanwhile, on Monday, lawyers’ organisations and NGOs issued a joint statement to call for the torture report’s release.
“Torture is a crime against humanity. The precondition to end torture is to make torture visible and put perpetrators through an extensive trial. Fighting torture is, without a doubt, one of the fundamental duties of a bar association,” said the Lawyers for Justice, Lawyers for Democracy, Lawyers’ Solidarity, Social Law, and the Ankara chapters of the Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and the Lawyers Association for Freedom (ÖHD).