Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan's courts ceremony

Istanbul (AFP) –


Dozens of Turkish bar associations are threatening to boycott President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's planned ceremony to open the judicial year at the presidential palace, saying it would be another violation of the judiciary's independence.

The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Erdogan, who has faced increasing criticism from Turkey's Western allies and rights activists over media freedoms and interference in the courts.

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.

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.

"These past years have seen judicial independence being seriously undermined... The judiciary is under pressure from the executive," Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul bar association, told AFP on Sunday.

"Under these circumstances, we would expect the ceremony for the opening of the judicial year to take place at a venue that represents the separation of powers, rather than a political location."

Erdogan's supporters dismiss criticism he has undermined Turkish democracy, saying his government faces domestic threats especially since a failed 2016 coup against him.

For many of his more conservative backers, he has brought prosperity and defended Turkey's interests in his decade and a half in power.

- 'Place of the people'-

The opening ceremony for the new judicial year was first held at the presidential palace in 2016 after the failed coup.

Since then authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people for alleged ties to the coup plotters, in what rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown.

Erdogan has dismissed criticism over the ceremony, describing the presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara as "the place of the people".

"The ceremony taking place in the place of the people would only strengthen judicial independence," the Turkish leader has said.

But for attorneys, the boycott decision represents a "reaction against violation of freedom of expression, rule of law and judicial independence," said Dogus Aygun, another lawyer from the Istanbul bar association.

Critics say Turkey's courts have bowed to pressure, often making rulings that favour authorities since massive purges in the judiciary following a corruption scandal in 2013 and the 2016 coup bid.

Durakoglu said 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."