Gianluca Costantini
Political Comics

Death in prison: the case of 3 Turkish lawyers

In the aftermath of the coup attempt of July 2016, the Turkish government initiated a crackdown against actual or perceived members of the Gulen Movement which President Erdogan said was behind the coup attempt. To be exact, 332,884 have been arrested over their links to the Gülen movement, while more than 101,000 of those were put into pretrial detention. Of those 332,884, 116,702 people have so far been convicted of membership in a terrorist organization, while 115,714 are still being investigated or standing trial. Those arrested naturally included people with serious medical conditions.

The Turkish government used ill-treatment and torture at detention centres as an instrument to instil terror hoping those arrested would turn against each other and those who had any links, however small it might be, to report others to the government. This also caused public officials like judges, public prosecutors, police officers, prison staff, doctors etc who served as part of the Turkish prison service to either actively participate in the torture and ill-treatment of arrested victims at worst or at best to unlawfully ignore their suffering.

Of course, lawyers are no exception to this crackdown.  Despite the unequivocal UN principle that  Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions, more than 1600 lawyers have been arrested since  July 2016. The arrests were also made in clear breach of the Turkish Law on Attorneyship which prohibited the arrest of a lawyer save for instances of flagrante delicto.  529 lawyers have so far been sentenced to 3242 years in prison for trumped-up terrorism charges. The evidence against them often included nothing more than their client lists and “anonymous witness” statements.

Fethi Un was one such lawyer. He was a respected member of the Izmir Bar Association with more than 35 years of professional experience. In his own words “during 36 years as a lawyer, I acted for thousands of clients from different backgrounds and political views at the same desk in the same small office”.

His clientele however included one very significant person; Fethullah Gulen himself. Fethi Un had acted for Fethullah Gulen between 1989 and 1993 mainly in connection with his civil law matters. In a country where even the remotest members of Gulen’s extended family had been targeted, this would of course not go without punishment. He was arrested soon after the coup attempt but subsequently released by the court. But a few months later, in October 2016, a public prosecutor, acting upon an anonymous tip-off, sought his arrest. The climate of terror which Erdogan created was so fierce that neither he nor the judge who ordered his arrest was in a position to consider his case on grounds of criminality.  He was eventually arrested and taken into custody. At the time of his arrest, he was suffering from diabetes and chronic high blood pressure. Continue


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