‘Sad day for rule of law’ as Turkey passes legal bill

Protesting lawyers take part in a demonstration against a government draft bill on changing the system of bar associations on July 10, 2020, in Ankara. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

‘Sad day for rule of law’ as Turkey passes legal bill

  • Protesting lawyers say move will politicize judiciary and restrict independence

ANKARA: Lawyers in Turkey stepped up their protests on Saturday after the Turkish parliament passed a controversial law that critics claim dilutes the power of bar associations.

International observers and legal experts have attacked the legislation, saying that it further restricts judicial independence.

Heads of Turkey’s bar associations who have protested in Tunali park in Ankara for several days — sleeping overnight on playground ramps and slides, with blankets provided by colleagues — vowed to continue their public opposition to the legislation.

The law has alarmed legal experts and members of the international community, including Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, who fear that it will politicize the judiciary, limit lawyers’ independence and reduce bar associations’ ability to monitor human rights.

Representatives of 80 bar associations have opposed the plan, and staged nationwide marches and protests in Ankara.

Under the new law, in provinces with over 5,000 lawyers, a group of at least 2,000 lawyers can establish alternative bar associations. This allows for multiple bar associations in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, where the current bar associations are among the few remaining institutions in Turkey voicing public criticism.

Under the current system, they represent 55 percent of lawyers in Turkey.

The amendment will significantly reduce the nationwide representation of the largest bar associations within the Union of Turkish Bars (TBB), an umbrella body whose board features two delegates from each bar association.

However, with new changes, the number of delegates to sent to the TBB will be cut in favor of rival bar associations that will likely be formed through political affiliations.

Large bar associations will lose influence in decision-making and the election of the umbrella body’s president.

Experts say the move will weaken standards in the legal profession and prevent the the ability of bar associations to uphold human rights commitments in the country.

The CHP, Turkey’s main opposition party, will appeal to the Constitutional Court of Turkey for an annulment once the law is published. But even if the court annuls the legislation, bar associations will not be closed since the verdict of the court does not apply retroactively.

Lawyer Mehmet Koksal said that a public backlash against the new law is highly likely.

“Alternative bar associations will be only formed in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir because of their high number of members. They are at the same time the ones who determine the general line of legal system in Turkey contrary to government expectations,” he told Arab News.

However, experts fear that the newly adopted legal changes will undermine the professional ethics and quality of lawyers, and polarize the profession.

“The lawyers will be put under governmental guidance and it will produce a chain effect, because the judges will refrain from giving favorable verdicts in cases where non-partisan bar associations are involved. It will seriously undermine the independence of the lawyers,” Koksal said.

The alternative bar associations will be able to give practicing certificates to attorneys, leading to a decentralized licensing system.

“It is unsurprising that the attorneys will give preference to those who have lower standards in awarding certificates. For the wrongdoings of the attorneys, the bar associations will refrain from opening investigations for fear that they may lose members and be closed,” Koksal added.

Human Rights Watch Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said the new law was passed without consultation with bar associations and was deliberately rushed through parliament.

“The aim is to be able to get rival government-friendly bar associations set up in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir before the October bar elections, and to determine the result of the Dec. 2020 election of the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations,” she told Arab News.

“The presidency’s divide and rule project to politicize the institutions that represent the legal profession is another sad day for the rule of law in Turkey,” she added.


Doctors on emergency duty describe horror of Beirut explosions

Updated 3 min 38 sec ago

Doctors on emergency duty describe horror of Beirut explosions

  • The explosions left some hospitals cut off from the power grid and unable to get their generators working
  • Many residents of the city were injured inside their apartments by shattered glass and falling objects

DUBAI: Badly injured people began streaming into Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center within hours of the explosion that devastated large parts of the capital on Tuesday night.

Some were hurt inside their apartments by shattered glass and falling objects; others suffered severe injuries while going up in elevators or climbing stairs; still others were bloodied by falling masonry and debris while they were out in the streets.

By late on Wednesday, the number of people hurt in the explosions in Beirut port had reached 5,000, with the death toll rising above 135.

“Blood was everywhere,” Dr. Walid Alami, a cardiologist at Clemenceau Medical Center, told Arab News from Beirut, as he recounted the events of a night that began with the hospital asking all its off-duty nurses and doctors to report for duty immediately.

He said a large number of patients, many of them children, suffered eye injuries and loss of vision caused by broken pieces of glass.

“I am 58. I have lived through the civil war and treated patients during the 2006 invasion. I have never seen anything like this,” Alami said. “We have never had a bomb that caused destruction over a wider radius.”

He added: “We handled the crisis well given that we haven’t had to confront anything like this since the 2006 war (with Israel). We dealt with many casualties in a very short period of time.”

The explosions could not have come at a worse time for Lebanon’s health system, which has been ailing for months owing to the economic collapse, electricity shortages and a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Lebanon imposed a two-week lockdown on July 30 after the health minister warned that the pandemic was taking a “dangerous turn.” But on Tuesday, Beirut’s hospitals faced a totally unexpected health emergency.

Among those who suddenly found themselves on the front line was Dr. Ramzi Alami a surgeon at the American University of Beirut Medical Center.

“Like most hospitals in Beirut, we were completely inundated last night,” he told Arab News. “We had to turn so many people away, which was one of the biggest challenges for our staff. We kept the corridors open so that we could bring in the seriously injured.

“I don’t know how to describe what we were doing last night. We were treating patients in the hallways, on the floor — all over the place. There was a power cut early on, so we were treating patients in the dark. It’s indescribable what we experienced and what we saw.”

He said the most serious cases involved internal head injuries, including brain trauma.

“Due to the intensity of the explosion, people got thrown from different positions or tossed into the air or hurled against walls. There were lots of lacerations, cuts and bleeding from shattered glass.”

In total the medical center had 55 major cases admitted overnight. People with less serious injuries were sent to smaller hospitals in the vicinity or elsewhere.

The explosions left some hospitals in Beirut cut off from the power grid and unable to get damaged generators up and running.

Dr. Samir Challita, based in Byblos, said patients began arriving from Beirut, 30 km away, when its hospitals began to run out of capacity.

Lebanon has not been abandoned in its hour of need. Planes carrying aid from GCC countries have begun arriving at Rafic Hariri Airport. The EU has said it will send about 100 firefighters and other search-and-rescue support.

President Donald Trump said the US was “ready to assist Lebanon,” while Israel, with which Lebanon is technically still at war, said it would support its neighbor with “humanitarian and medical aid.”

However, many Lebanese say that the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the disaster should face a reckoning.

“The scale of the destruction is unprecedented, even by Beirut’s sad history of explosions,” Nasser Saidi, a former economy and trade minister and founder of Nasser Saidi & Associates, told Arab News from Beirut.

“On a global scale, this was the most powerful explosion after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more devastating than Halifax (1917) and Texas City (1947) where 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded,” he said.

“The resulting loss of life and injuries to residents has generated deep anger. The ammonium nitrate had been in storage at Beirut port since 2014, posing a clear danger. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

“This is a case of criminal neglect by the authorities and management in charge of the port, customs, the security and judicial authorities and governments. Warnings were given, but they went unheeded. There must be justice and accountability.”

Saidi warned the explosions will deepen the economic, banking and financial meltdown, currency depreciation and soaring inflation. The destruction of the port will hit Lebanon’s imports of food, medicines and essential goods.

“International aid is required not only to address humanitarian needs but to push for political reform,” he said. “The Diab government cannot continue blaming the accumulations of past bad governance.”

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