Turkish Lawyers to Boycott Ceremony at Presidential Palace

Sunday, 18 August, 2019 - 17:45
Asharq Al-Awsat

Dozens of bar associations representing lawyers from provinces across Turkey, including the largest cities, have said they will boycott an annual ceremony for the judiciary because it will take place at the presidential palace.

Many said holding the ceremony in a location related to the presidency signals a lack of separation of powers.

The independence of Turkey's judiciary has been hotly debated in recent years, especially since a crackdown on the judiciary and other state bodies following the July 2016 abortive coup and after the country switched to an executive presidential system in June last year.

The European Union says Turkey's judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014 and that judges and prosecutors have come under increasing political pressure.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party have repeatedly said the judiciary is independent and makes its own decisions.

At least 42 bar associations including those for Istanbul and the capital Ankara said they would not attend the event on September 2 because they believe the ceremony should take place at the Supreme Court building, not the presidential palace.

The ceremony is organized by Turkey's top appeals court, the Court of Cassation, for the start of the judicial year at the Presidential Congress and Culture Center in Ankara.

Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul Bar Association, said the executive presidential system was damaging the separation of powers.

"At a time when discussions [on the separation of powers] are ongoing with the utmost intensity ... the choice of location for the opening ceremony is not a simple matter," he wrote in a letter, posted on his association's website.

"The choice is extremely important in that it states the position of... the Court of Cassation in these discussions."

The ceremony was held at the Presidential Congress and Culture Center in 2016 and then again in 2018.

The Turkish Bar Association, an umbrella body, said on Saturday its head, Metin Feyzioglu, will attend the ceremony and make a speech, as is customary.

State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted the presidency of the Court of Cassation on Saturday as saying that most of the bar association heads that were invited had said they will attend.

Accusations that the Court of Cassation was under political influence were unjust, it said.

Durakoglu told Agence France Presse that the bar associations would keep up with their campaign for more judicial independence in Turkey even "at the expense of paying a heavy price."

"We have no fear nor hesitation," he said. "We see no solution other than keep on fighting."

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