Young lawyers seek ‘unconditional justice’ at the European Court of Human Rights

Feb 5, 2021 | International

Attorneys who became the victim of persecution in Turkey stood vigil for journalists who were arrested on Working Journalists Day.

A non-profit organization in Europe, Kosulsuz Adalet — which means unconditional justice — has peacefully protested since Nov. 27 reported Turkish human rights violations of journalists in front of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Near the ECHR building is the European Parliament where some parliamentarians are following the organization’s vigils calling on the ECHR to take action, said Barbaros Kaya, a reporter with Nokta Magazine who has been jailed in Turkey.

Exiled Turkish lawyer Hasan Said Şaz, a member of Kosulsuz Adalet, said the oppressive environment and the regime’s unlawful practices brought the protestors together.

“The discussion of ‘what can be done, how can a resistance be shown’ on this subject pushed us to the idea of justice watch,” he said.

Turkish Lawyers seek justice in front of the European Court of Human Rights. In the first picture, there is an arrested MP, Selahattin Demirtas, of the opposition party, HDP.
Former Turkish MP Selahattin Demirtas, with the opposition party HDP, joins protestors holding signs outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Photo credit: Barbaros Kaya

Elif Koçer, a lawyer and researcher assistant, said lawyers are exposed to political pressure by the judiciary in Turkey. The courts have not ruled on human rights violations in Turkey for many years, she said.

“That is why we have established this organization,” Koçer said.

Turkey marked Jan. 10 as ” Working Journalists Day’ since 1961. However, many journalists either were arrested or unemployed or forced to flee the country because of the anti-democratic regime. A crackdown on the judiciary intensified since the failed so-called coup attempt of July 15, 2016.

“Today, Turkey ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the press freedom. We are one of the countries with the highest number of arrested journalists in the world,” Şaz said.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), at least 721 journalists were arrested during the 18 years of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule. And despite the pandemic, 145 journalists have been imprisoned and at least 260 journalists’ lawsuits are in progress.

“The aim of our protest for journalists was both to raise awareness about the Turkish reporters imprisoned and intense political pressure faced by the media workers in the country,” Koçer said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labelled all opposition media as terrorist organizations and journalists have also been labelled as terrorists. Many were detained without any evidence, and there was an outcry when the President of the European Court of Human Rights, Róbert Spanó, visited Erdogan`s palace in September 2020.

Kaya was imprisoned for 21 months in Silivri Prison and was sentenced later to nine years jail because he worked for the publication.

“I learned in the courtrooms that my trial was theatrical,” he said. “In the first minute, the judge asked, ‘have you worked at Nokta Magazine, which propagates a terrorist organization?’”

Two Gowns of Lawyers were hanged on the fence to attract people's attention.
Two lawyer’s gowns were hanged on the fence to attract people’s attention of Turkey’s ongoing crackdown on journalists and lawyers. Photo credit: Barbaros Kaya

Kaya said the judge did not allow a defence, and tossed his lawyer out of the court.

“The judge dictated only what they wanted to hear in defence to the file,” he said.

Kaya told the judge his question whether the magazine is a terrorist organization was “very manipulative.”

The judge shouted demanding that he answers the question without comment, Kaya said.

Kosulsuz Adalet members continue to boost awareness about ongoing arrests and trials of media employees in Turkey. The attorneys hope the ECHR will act on the journalists’ files that have been sitting idle for years.

“In a country where the press is not free, neither democracy nor the rule of law will prevail,” Şaz said. “This is exactly why we defended the freedom of the press to the end and tried to raise the issue before the ECHR.”

Kosulsuz Adalet members have been working on a report about human rights violations in Turkey. When the report is completed it will demand an appointment with the court to explain the report’s findings.