‘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)
Short Url
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.

 


Political novices drawn to rally against Netanyahu

Updated 13 August 2020

Political novices drawn to rally against Netanyahu

  • The boisterous rallies have brought out a new breed of first-time protesters — young, middle-class Israelis

JERUSALEM: In a summer of protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the accusations of corruption and calls for him to resign could be accompanied by another familiar refrain: “I’ve never done this before.”

The boisterous rallies have brought out a new breed of first-time protesters — young, middle-class Israelis who have little history of political activity but feel that Netanyahu’s scandal-plagued rule and his handling of the coronavirus crisis have robbed them of their futures. It is a phenomenon that could have deep implications for the country’s leaders.

“It’s not only about the COVID-19 and the government’s handling of the situation,” said Shachar Oren, a 25-year-old protester. “It’s also about the people that cannot afford to eat and cannot afford to live. I am one of those people.”

Oren is among the thousands of people who gather outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem several times a week, calling on the longtime leader to resign. The young demonstrators have delivered a boost of momentum to a movement of older, more established protesters who have been saying Netanyahu should step down when he is on trial for corruption charges.

The loose-knit movements have joined forces to portray Netanyahu as an out-of-touch leader, with the country’s most bloated government in history and seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax benefits for himself at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is raging and unemployment has soared to over 20 percent.

Many of the young protesters have lost their jobs or seen their career prospects jeopardized. They have given the protests a carnival-like atmosphere, pounding on drums and dancing in the streets in colorful costumes while chanting vitriolic slogans against the prime minister.

Netanyahu has tried to dismiss the protesters as “leftists” or “anarchists.” Erel Segal, a commentator close to the prime minister, has called the gatherings “a Woodstock of hatred.”

Despite such claims, there are no signs that any opposition parties are organizing the gatherings. Politicians have been noticeably absent from most of the protests.

Israel has a long tradition of political protest, be it peace activists, West Bank settlers or ultra-Orthodox Jews. The new wave of protesters seems to be characterized by a broader, mainstream appeal.

“The partisan issue is totally missing, and the party organizations are not present,” said Tamar Hermann, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank and expert on protest movements.

Hermann said the protesters resemble many other protest movements around the world. “They are mostly middle class,” she said. “And they were kicked out of work.”

Oren, for instance, said he used to survive on a modest salary as a software analyst thanks to training he received in an Israeli military high-tech unit. Then he moved into tutoring — offering lessons in English, computers and chess to schoolchildren.

He said things were not easy, but he was “too busy surviving” to think about political activity. That changed when the coronavirus crisis began in March.

Oren’s business crashed.

With unemployment soaring, Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, formed a coalition with 34 Cabinet ministers, the largest government in Israel’s history. Beyond the generous salaries, these ministers, many with vague titles, enjoy perks like drivers, security guards and office space, and can hand out jobs to cronies.

A Netanyahu ally dismissed reports that people were having trouble feeding their families as “BS.”

Oren said he became “furious,” and about two months ago, he went to his first protest against the nation’s leaders. “They are there because we gave them the power and want them to help us. And they’re not doing anything,” he explained.

Oren now treks to Jerusalem from his home in the city of Kfar Saba in central Israel, about an hour away, three times a week. He is easily recognizable with his poster that says “House of Corruption,” depicting Netanyahu in a pose similar to Kevin Spacey’s nefarious “House of Cards” character, Frank Underwood.

Oren says he does not belong to any political party or any of the movements organizing the rallies, but that the diverse group of activists all want similar things. “No to the corruption, the poverty, the detachment. We’re just saying enough,” he said.

University student Stav Piltz went through a similar evolution. Living in downtown Jerusalem near Netanyahu’s residence, she quickly noticed the demonstrations in her neighborhood when they began several months ago. She talked to protesters as well as local residents at the cafe where she waitressed before she was laid off.

She said she noticed a common theme. “They feel that something is very critical now in the political climate and no one is listening to the citizens and the pain we are experiencing,” she said.

But Piltz said the spark that drew her to protest was a national strike last month by the country’s social workers.

Piltz, herself a social work student, said she has a history of social activism but has never been involved with party politics. The collection of women, coming from different religious, political, ethnic and racial backgrounds, was a powerful sight. “This is where I saw how much power we have when we are together,” she said.

The demonstrations, which have gained strength in recent weeks, are the largest sustained wave of public protests since hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in 2011 to draw attention to the country’s high cost of living. While those protests ultimately fizzled, two of their leaders entered parliament, and one, Itzik Shmuli, is now the country’s welfare minister.

Both Piltz and Oren said they are determined to keep up their activities in the long term.

“People have nothing to lose. So it’s very easy to go demonstrate these days, especially if you’re young and you see no future here,” Piltz said.

Hermann, the political analyst, said too many Israeli youths have been “politically ignorant” and that it is a “very good sign” for the country’s democracy that people are becoming involved.

The leaders, however, may not be so pleased to face a politically aware young generation.

“They are much more difficult to be controlled while they gain political views and confidence,” she said.