British lawyers accuse Turkey

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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

British lawyers yesterday accused the Turkish authorities of abusing human rights and the rule of law and regularly torturing Turks and Kurds to obtain false statements.

Turkish lawyers are currently being prosecuted for helping clients take their human rights cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Turkey has signed the European Convention on Human Rights, and has allowed its citizens to take cases there since 1987.

The British lawyers focus on two trials taking place; in one, seven people including six lawyers are being prosecuted under anti-terrorist legislation after writing a report on human rights abuses. In the second, the 11 defendants, who include two lawyers, are charged with anti-Turkish propaganda, assisting foreigners to travel round south-west Turkey, and preparing petitions to Strasbourg. In each case the defendants face sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

According to the British lawyers, the Turkish authorities defend their prosecutions on the grounds that lawyers taking Kurdish human rights cases are acting against the national interest by encouraging Kurdish separatism.

A team of five solicitors who have visited south-east Turkey and documented the treatment of prisoners and lawyers there say there is substantial evidence that the country has violated the European Convention.

The British lawyers, representing the Law Society, the International Bar Association and the Bar Human Right Committee hope to use Turkey's attempts to forge closer economic and political ties with the European Union as a lever to force it to change its human rights policy. The European Parliament is due to consider Turkey's application to join the tariff union in the next month, and the British lawyers are pressing MEPs to block the application on human rights grounds.

Louise Christian, a solicitor who co-wrote the report, said yesterday: "Lawyers in Turkey who campaign about human rights violations are themselves being prosecuted simply for campaigning. There is a fundamental threat to the independence of lawyers in Turkey.

"If the independence of lawyers is threatened, and they can't speak out regularly, it is a real indication that democracy and the rule of law are under threat."

She said the Turkish Human Rights Minister Algan Hacaloglu had agreed to be interviewed. The lawyers conclude from this meeting that although he apparently wants to improve the country's human rights record, the military and other members of the government would see liberalisation as a concession to terrorism.