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Bar association in SE Turkey denies minister’s accusations of lawyers’ terrorist links

The Diyarbakır Bar Association in southeastern Turkey has responded with a strong denial of remarks made by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu that accuse some lawyers in Turkey of having connections to terrorism, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Monday.

Speaking at a public event in İstanbul on Sunday, Soylu said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) can only be completely eradicated in Turkey by arresting lawyers who have links to the group.

More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between Turkish security forces and the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

“The complete eradication of the PKK in Turkey is dependent on one thing. Speaking from my experience as interior minister, it is contingent on putting PKK lawyers behind bars,” Soylu said.

The Diyarbakır Bar Association on Monday released a written statement in response to the minister’s remarks, criticizing him for targeting them by using “criminalizing language.”

“We are also aware that the interior minister’s unfortunate and accusatory statement carries the threat of a new investigation,” the association said, referring to the detention of 25 lawyers in raids conducted in 21 provinces as part of a counterterrorism operation just three weeks the May 14 elections.

Reminding that Soylu previously said the operation in April targeted lawyers acting on behalf of a terrorist organization, the association added that the minister’s statement violated the presumption of innocence and influenced the judiciary and that four of the detained lawyers were “unjustly arrested” as a result.

“We are currently in a process where fundamental rights and freedoms are arbitrarily violated, and lawyers … are targeted by the judiciary and subjected to threats of prosecution. … We want to make clear to the public that we do not accept this criminalizing and accusatory language towards our profession,” the association said.

Turkey has been cracking down on opposition figures, lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The government has accused them of links to the PKK in addition to a group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the coup. Both Gülen and his followers deny any involvement.

The US State Department said in its 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that Turkish authorities had prosecuted more than 1,600 lawyers, arrested 615 and sentenced 551 to lengthy prison terms on terrorism-related charges since the coup attempt in 2016.

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