The Turkish government secretly investigated the family members of lawyers who are perceived to be critical of the regime including their spouses and children, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
The targeting of family members of critical lawyers and human rights defenders is part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of intimidation conducted by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The escalation of the government witch-hunt targeting lawyers’ spouses and their children shows the extent and intensity of the ongoing crackdown on the legal profession and by extension the right to legal counsel and access to lawyers for tens of thousands of victims in Turkey.
According to the documents reviewed by Nordic Monitor, the Turkish government investigated the spouses and children of 28 lawyers including prominent attorneys who have been jailed or forced to live in exile since the crackdown started in 2015 and intensified a year later. The documents show spouses and children including underage youngsters were investigated by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), an executive organ attached to the Finance and Treasury Ministry, which is led by Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law.
The investigation documents were found in docket No. 2017/134 of the Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court, which is hearing the trials of dozens of jailed lawyers. The Masak report, dated July 13, 2018, reveals how intrusive the Turkish government was in its campaign of intimidation of lawyers who were harassed and threatened with the prosecution of family members on fabricated charges. The report lists 83 people as being targeted, indicating that some of the lawyers have more than one child and that all of them were listed as suspected criminals in an unprecedented prosecution of lawyers and rights defenders.
The first names and ID numbers for the victims, their spouses and children were redacted by Nordic Monitor out of privacy concerns.
The Erdoğan government started systematically investigating lawyers long before a failed coup in 2016, arresting them and putting them in pre-trial detention in large numbers to prevent many defendants from accessing lawyers. Lawyers were targeted because they represented critics and opponents of the government in legal cases and defended their rights in the courtroom. Today, lawyers’ themselves have difficulty finding and hiring lawyers, many of whom are afraid of being detained due to their clients. In a number of instances, court-appointed lawyers have filed motions to withdraw from cases that may put them in the crosshairs of the government.
According to data maintained by The Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative, 581 lawyers have been arrested, 1,542 prosecuted and 168 lawyers convicted in Turkey since 2016. Lawyers are the target of widespread attacks, including arbitrary detention, harassment, threats, torture and ill-treatment while in custody and in prisons, and they face unjust prosecutions on dubious charges and trials by partisan judges in the government-controlled courts. As a result, tens of thousands of victims in Turkey lack vigorous representation as their rights are violated with complete impunity, leaving them without recourse. The mounting problems in exercising the right to a defense and the absence of a guarantee for lawyers to engage in their profession without fear of reprisal have dealt a major blow to the principle of a fair trial in Turkey and had a chilling effect on due process in the Turkish criminal justice system.
The document lists the following lawyers whose spouses and children were investigated: Abdülkadir Ceylani Özgöl, İsmail Yıldırım, Çağlayan Erginay, Muhammed Ali Özdel, Süleyman Sallı, Eren Babahanoğlu, Muhammed Enes Ayhan, Mehmet Rasim Kuseyri, Cemaleddin Karadaş, İbrahim Lökluoğlu, Hasan Basri Aksoy, Şaban Yağcı, Murat Araç, Furkan Şen, Hüseyin Mehan, Mustafa Dokumacı, Mehmet Kasap, Mustafa Kocadağ, Mehmet Sürer, Hasan Hüseyin Tanrıverdi, Talha Aksoy, Hakan Yıldız, Nurullah Albayrak, Mustafa Onur Aslay, Adnan Şeker, Hayrettin Açıkgöz, Melik Bayat and Sait Şahan.
The Turkish government has come under growing criticism from international human rights organizations, bar associations and professional organizations for lawyers and judges for its crackdown on lawyers in Turkey.