Urgent appeal on detained Turkish lawyers

Who we wrote to

We wrote to the UN special rapporteurs on:

  • the independence of judges and lawyers
  • the situation of human rights defenders
  • the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
  • torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

We co-signed the letter with:

  • Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project
  • Defense Sans Frontiere-Avocats Solidaire (DSF-AS)
  • the Rotterdam Bar Association
  • the Human Rights Commission
  • Consiglio Nazionale Forense (CNF), ITALY
  • Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
  • European Democratic Lawyers (AED/EDL)
  • the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy (ELDH)

What’s the issue

We’re deeply concerned about the condition of two lawyers detained in Turkey who are on hunger strike. Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal have been convicted and detained in violation of fair trial principles. They are two of the ҪHD lawyers charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314(2) of the Turkish Penal Code.

Ms Timtik and Mr Ünsal received sentences of 13 and a half years and 10 and a half years respectively. Ms Timtik went on a hunger strike in January 2020 and Mr Ünsal followed on 2 February 2020, to protest against violations of their rights, as well as the lack of fair trial in other cases. On 5 April they turned this into a ‘death fast’. They’re now in a critical condition.

They were moved from prison to hospital under a court ruling following a medical report in July 2020. Currently, Ms Timtik is at Dr Sadi Konuk Training and Research Hospital in İstanbul’s Bakirköy district, while Mr Ünsal is at Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Training and Research Hospital in Küçükçekmece district.

Ms Timtik now weights 35 kilos, while Mr Ünsal weighs 55 kilos. They and their relatives have reported poor conditions in the hospital, including cold, being prevented from sleeping, being continuously watched and being refused pen and paper.

Even one more day on hunger strike could be irreversibly harmful to their health and it’s reportedly a matter of hours, not days.

The case of Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal is currently under examination by the 16th Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals. More than 30 bar association chairs worldwide applied to the İstanbul Court about the lawyers’ request and nearly 100 petitions were received within 36 hours.

What we asked for

We’ve asked the UN special rapporteurs to:

  • urge the Turkish authorities to give Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal the opportunity to await the outcome of their appeal in freedom and facilitate their immediate release, as currently their lives are further endangered by the hospital and prison conditions in Turkey during the COVID-19 global pandemic
  • urge the Turkish authorities to drop all criminal charges against the two lawyers, stop all forms of harassment, including judicial harassment, against them as well as other lawyers and human rights defenders in Turkey, and allow them to perform their professional and lawful functions without intimidation or improper interference
  • intervene in these serious matters and raise these issues, as a matter of priority, with the Turkish authorities and communicate our concerns
  • urge the Turkish authorities to respect and ensure the independence of the judiciary by law and practice and to prevent judges, prosecutors and lawyers from suffering undue interference
  • call on the government of Turkey to comply with the provisions of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other international instruments on the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms

Timeline

January and February 2020 – Ms Timtik and Mr Ünsal go on hunger strike, demanding a retrial

5 April 2020 – Ms Timtik and Mr Ünsal turned their protest into a ‘death fast’

June 2020 – more than 22 international bar associations have asked the Supreme Court in Turkey to release Ms Timtik and Mr Ünsal, submitting the final report from a fact-finding mission. Petitions demanding their release were also submitted to the Supreme Court of Appeals, showing the support of 400 lawyers from Turkey and 356 more lawyers from 20 other countries

17 July 2020 – in a press conference in Istanbul, the Solidarity Platform for Justice said that they had lesions in their mouths and had difficulties talking and drinking

30 July 2020 – the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institution released a report on the health conditions of Ms Timtik and Mr Ünsal, after the İstanbul 37th Heavy Penal Court ruled that the lawyers should undergo a medical examination. The report said that was not suitable for them to stay in prison. They were hospitalised for a possible force-feeding shortly after the court ruling

11 August 2020 – Ms Timtik and Mr Ünsal had been on a “death fast” for 222 and 191 days respectively in demand for a fair trial

18 August 2020 – we sent our urgent appeal to the UN