Turkey’s General Directorate of Security (EGM) has said that the police “acted in accordance with the legislation” after several police officers were caught on camera battering and dragging senior lawyers in an attempt to halt their Defense March on June 22.
“The group [of bar association heads] who were insistent on holding the march and temporarily closed the intercity-highway to traffic, was pulled to the side [of the road] and the highway was opened to traffic,” a statement released by the EGM said on June 24, claiming that the relevant police officers “acted in accordance with the legislation” while undertaking this action.
Some 60 bar heads launched a Defense March on June 19 against increasing pressure from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They planned to end their march at Ankara’s Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkish Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
On June. 22, Ankara police stopped the march by barricading a highway leading to the city, and footage showed the heads of bar associations being pushed and jostled by police.
The lawyers started a sit-in protest following the blockade.
The police said that the march was not granted a permission from the Ankara governor’s office and was in violation of social distancing rules due to the novel coronavirus.
Bar heads shared videos and pictures throughout the early hours of June 23, saying that police seized raincoats and food sent to them. They also said that police ordered nearby restaurants and cafes to shut down to prevent bar heads from using their restrooms.
The Interior Ministry eventually early on June 23 allowed bar heads to continue their march to Ankara following a 27-hour-long stand-off.
The harsh intervention of the police against the bar association heads was highly criticized, as the right to hold a march is secured by the laws.
In the face of criticism, the EGM issued a statement saying that bar heads were told that they cannot enter Ankara while marching on foot, but can enter the city in cars. The statement said that lawyers who were “insistent on holding the march” were then “pulled to the side” of the road.
“Some fractions of the society have expressed this as the police exceeding its authority and the march being prevented in an unlawful way. The claim that the march was prevented in an unlawful way does not have a legal basis,” the statement further said.
The lawyers’ Defense March was launched after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP intensified its efforts to amend the law on changing bar associations’ election systems in what critics say an effort to increase the number of pro-government figures in bars.
The issue came to the agenda after Ankara Bar Association slammed Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) head Ali Erbaş for his remarks targeting LGBT individuals on Islamic grounds. The bars released a statement against the homophobic remarks, which was followed by Erdoğan calling for a change in their election system.