İHD-HRFT Joint Statement on Defending the Defense March

Defending the Defense March by Bar Associations Denied Entry to Ankara

23 June 2020

80 bar associations and the executive board of the Turkish Union of Bar Associations had issued a declaration on 19 May 2020 criticizing AKP and MHP’s behest to amend the laws on professional organizations, notably bar associations, in an overall attempt to create a system with multiple bar associations and to specifically interfere with bar association elections and to terminate their identity as independent professional organizations. Bar associations had warned the political power stating that this behest was unlawful.

56 bar associations, representing about 90% of lawyers practicing in Turkey, decided on 18 June 2020 that only the heads of bar associations from all over the country would march to Ankara in order to warn the de facto AKP-MHP coalition once again that has been acting along anti-democratic and authoritarian lines imposing a mentality that utterly disregards such principles as transparency, participation and pluralism in spite of the will of bar associations.

The bar associations openly stated that the essential aim of this march was to protect independence of the defense that is one of the three main components of judicial independence. The political power is keen on rendering its dominance and control over the judiciary absolute by introducing legal amendments that will disable the defense, which has been able to remain the sole independent component of the judiciary that the political power has already subjected to its very own will and instrumentalized. The march by the heads of bar associations, therefore, is at the same time a march to prevent the attempt to rid citizens of defense and to defend judicial independence.

This march started without any problems on 19 June 2020 at courthouses across the country and uneventfully moved on until the morning of 22 June 2020 as the defense arrived in Ankara. Authorities issuing an arbitrary ban prevented the march by the heads of bar associations who were supposed to walk a symbolic few hundred meters on entry to Ankara and move on with their programs after meeting with lawyers from Ankara who were waiting for them to arrive. So much so that they were subjected to physical and verbal violence by the law enforcement that have long been blatantly abusing their power to use force considering themselves free of all kinds of laws, rules and norms.

The right to peaceful assembly and protest is a universal and constitutional right that is among the fundamental rights protected in a democratic society and, along with the right to freedom of expression, constitutes the foundation of a democratic society. Such blatant violation of this right in Turkey indicates that the current government has digressed from constitutional control and has been posing an alarming threat against our fundamental rights. Moreover, the affirmative and even encouraging silence of the Ministry of Justice and representatives of higher judicial bodies against such gross violation brought about by the violence of the law enforcement is a crystal clear indicator of the misery of justice in Turkey. Such cruel and degrading treatment deemed proper for the heads of bar associations that represent the defense, the founding component of the judiciary, can in no way be accepted.

This march by the heads of bar associations and their resistance reveal the sheer fact that there is no other way but to resist and fight for our rights in Turkey.

We do condemn the fact that the heads of bar associations were not allowed to march and made to wait till the morning under heavy rain. We are standing with the heads of bar associations, will continue to defend the defense with them, and we will win this struggle for rights together.

Human Rights Association

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey


Photo credit: Alican Uludağ