Duvar English

Hundreds of lawyers gathered in front of a courthouse in Istanbul on June 30 to protest a draft bill submitted to parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The bill submitted earlier in the day aims to decentralize the bar associations by permitting the establishment of alternative associations in Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir, which represent nearly half of all lawyers in the country.

The bill also seeks to change the election system of the executive board of the Turkey Bar Associations in a way to break the power of three biggest associations so that provincial organizations would have more of a say in the lawyers’ agenda.

The AKP’s move is slammed for trying to increase pro-government influence in bar associations.

As lawyers began gathering in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse for their Defense Rally, police encircled the area and implemented tight security measures.

Istanbul Bar Head Mehmet Durakoğlu addressed the lawyers in front of the courthouse, saying that the bars won’t be silenced.

“We’ll prove how this bill breaches universal norms of law and the constitution,” Durakoğlu said.

His speech was frequently interrupted by the lawyers’ call on Union of Turkish Bar Associations head Metin Feyzioğlu to resign.

Feyzioğlu, in his defense, said that he also opposes the bill, but has to “stand close to” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to “defend the rights of the lawyers.”

“They want lawyers to refrain from talking about politics, but we’ll do so until we die. We need to protect human rights and the superiority of law. I’m telling Ankara from here; The bars won’t be silenced. We won’t bow down and obey,” Durakoğlu said.

He also said that the bill is a project of the followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whose official name is the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

“During the 2010 [constitutional] referendum, we said, ‘Don’t hand the judiciary to FETÖ,’ but they praised Gülen in response. This is also a FETÖ project! It’s a project that was planned with the 2010 referendum,” Durakoğlu said.

“This country needs lawyers. We’ll respect parliament’s decision, but will tell those who’re trying to use the power of legislation as a weapon that it will turn to them like a boomerang. This is our democratic right,” he said.

The bar heads on June 19 launched a Defense March against the government’s legislation attempting to weaken bar associations. 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 Interior Ministry eventually allowed bar heads to continue their march to Ankara following a 27-hour-long stand-off.

In the southern province of Adana, meanwhile, police prevented lawyers from marching to the courthouse to protest the bill.

Footage showed police spraying tear gas on lawyers.