In today’s Turkey, lawyers themselves are being targeted—just for practicing their profession in accordance with the law.
Not long ago, international human rights scholars and experts considered Turkey a promising story of democratic transformation. But both human rights and those who defend them in Turkey are increasingly at risk today. Particularly since the 2016 coup attempt, Turkey has intensified restrictions with a controlled judiciary, systematically targeting those who stand up for democracy. Thousands of journalists, academics, lawyers, and government critics have lost their jobs, have been targeted by smear campaigns, or have been accused in court of terrorism-related crimes or insulting President Erdoğan.
The most vocal parts of civil society are being systematically suppressed in the country. This increases reliance on lawyers who can defend the rights of those who stand up for democracy. However, in today’s Turkey, lawyers themselves are being targeted—simply for practicing their profession in accordance with the law.
Even though the two-year state of emergency following the coup attempt ended in 2018, the country now finds itself in a so-called “normalized state of emergency rule.” This means that certain emergency decrees that should not have effect past the emergency period are still being used, or that after the emergency period ended, new laws were adopted, including the same provisions as those present in emergency decrees, thereby legitimizing the existence of restrictions imposed by the laws. In other words, emergency-like laws, which are not subject to the same checks and balances that a democracy has, are still used to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey.
Since 2016, attacks on lawyers have become institutionalized and systematic. Lawyers are investigated, detained, and no longer feel safe and free when defending their clients in court rooms or police stations. This means that lawyers are no longer able to practice their profession the way they are supposed to in a healthy democracy.