ANKARA: Turkey’s legal fraternity is opposing a bill that, if passed, will scuttle the effective functioning of the country’s bar associations — one of its few remaining bastions of free speech.
The presidents of 55 Turkish bar associations have been marching from their respective provinces toward Ankara against the proposed bill.
The “March for Defense” began on June 19 and reached the Turkish capital on Sunday night.
Soner Karademir, head of the bar association in the northern province of Giresun, walked through heavy rain for three days with his umbrella and judge’s robe alongside colleagues from across the country.
Despite the protest remaining peaceful, police in Ankara blocked its movement in the early hours of Monday morning. A policeman punched one of the bar presidents of the southeastern province of Antep, and tried to arrest the head of the Antalya bar association.
Bar associations in Turkey claim that their march to the capital aims to fight “against darkness” that would expand with the introduction of a draft law on changing their election systems, in an effort to increase the representation of pro-government figures.
There is currently one bar association for each province of the country.
But with the new bill, the government would open the way for launching alternative bar associations, which will boost pro-government tendencies in the Union of Bar Associations (TBB), the centralized bar union of the country, which is formed by delegates.
“We only aim to ensure the rule of law and security in this country. This law amendment would trigger illegal structures within the judiciary. If bar associations are kept silent, the citizens could not voice their claims from the state because we monitor the services given to the citizens by the public authorities,” Karademir told Arab News.
The bill has also been criticized for not having been negotiated with the representatives of bar associations themselves.
Just before the march, Istanbul Bar Association head Mehmet Durakoglu, who has come under intense criticism from the government, issued a statement saying that the marchers would go to where their hearts took them.
“Where our hearts take us is the state of law, independence of the judiciary, living humanly and honorably. We are marching to ensure this,” he said.
The Ankara and Istanbul bar associations have long protested President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the deteriorating state of the rule of law and alleged wrongdoings.
In early June, 79 Turkish bar associations also issued a joint statement, calling for the government to revoke the bill.
The bar associations also asked the TBB for an extraordinary meeting to discuss the matter. However, the legislative draft of the bill is almost ready and is expected to be adopted by the Turkish parliament soon.
Gamze Pamuk Atesli, a lawyer from the northwestern province of Bursa, said the police action that the lawyers faced on Monday was becoming a widespread problem in Turkish society.
She told Arab News that it gave a message that only those aligned with the powerful had the freedom to express their views.
“It is unacceptable that heads of bar associations had to witness an arbitrary police intervention while exercising their constitutional rights,” she said.
Gamze added that the lawyers’ march did not threaten peace or security. Growing injustice, she said, is the real threat.
“We need law as we need water and bread. We will all need justice at some point. The heads of our associations will keep supporting the rule of law,” she added.
Ankara witnessed another march last week organized by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in the wake of Turkish military operations in Kurdish-held territory in northern Iraq.