"Kill All The Lawyers": Stifling Dissent in Turkey

February 4, 2012

Turkey’s jailing of writers has received increasing attention in both the Turkish and the international press, enough to force Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to defend the fact that Turkey has more journalists in prison,  describing them as “so-called journalists” who “ are actually “police murderers, sexual molesters and supporters of a coup”.

In 2011 Turkey imprisoned 104 journalists, causing Reporters Without Borders to drop Turkey’s press freedom ranking to 148th in the world.  Either the country has one of the most vicious and corrupt press corps in modern history or these arrests are politically motivated.  However, the Prime Minister will have none of this.  When American Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone stated that he was unable to understand the massive arrests, he was dismissed by Erdogan as a “rookie ambassador” who just didn’t understand Turkey.

Erdogan’s increasingly surreal rhetoric concerning jailed journalists is probably due to the growing negative reporting on freedom of the press in Turkey. What has received far less attention, however, is the equally worrisome current practice of imprisoning attorneys in Turkey who attempt to defend journalists and others caught in the massive wave of arrests currently underway in Turkey.

Agence France Press reported in November that scores of Kurdish lawyers were arrested in a police crackdown throughout Turkey; those arrested in various crackdowns during November included 42 lawyers of convicted PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.  Arresting lawyers because of their clients’ misdeeds is a violation of Principle 18 of the UN Basic Principles on the role of lawyers:

“Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”

It is also a convenient way to stifle dissent.  In Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, part 2, a character says “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”  Apparently, the Turkish government has found an alternative they believe to be equally effective.

If you are interested in the issue of Human Rights in Turkey, consider joining us on our Turkey Regional Action Network on Facebook.