Detention of 25 lawyers in Turkey is unlawful, violates right to liberty, advocacy group says

An advocacy group that defends the rights of lawyers has said the recent detention of 25 lawyers in Turkey was “unlawful” and violates their right to liberty, according to a press statement released on Wednesday.

The lawyers were detained in raids conducted in 21 provinces on Tuesday as part of a counterterrorism operation, just three weeks before the country’s May 14 elections.

The Arrested Lawyers Initiative said in the statement that the detentions were based on an unlawful interpretation of the “in flagrante delicto” provision in Turkish law. The provision allows criminal investigations into lawyers for offenses arising from their legal practice or for offenses committed in the exercise of their duties only after the justice minister has approved it. The law prohibits even the search of a lawyer’s person, except in cases of flagrante delicto.

The European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled in more than 1,000 cases that the Turkish Court of Cassation’s interpretation of “in flagrante delicto” is excessive and neutralizes procedural safeguards, the advocacy group said.

“Clearly the legislature, while prohibiting even the search a lawyer’s person, except for the flagrante delicto exception, would definitely not allow the arrest, detention or imprisonment without a greater reason,” the statement said.

The Arrested Lawyers Initiative also expressed concern that the detention of lawyers, journalists, politicians, union leaders and artists in the run-up to the elections was worrying as they play an important role in ensuring the fairness, transparency and security of the elections.

Turkey has been cracking down on opposition figures, journalists and human rights defenders since a coup attempt in 2016. The government has accused them of links to a group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the coup. Gülen denies any involvement.

At least 126 people were detained in Tuesday’s raids, according to sources cited by Agence France-Presse and Turkish media outlets.