On April 5, which has been celebrated as the Day of Lawyer in Turkey since 1923, the two lawyers from the People’s Law Bureau (Halkın Hukuk Bürosu; People’s Front-Turkey lawyers’ organization) – Aytaç Ünsal, have announced that they are turning their indefinite hunger strikes into a hunger strike till death(Death fast). The decision, made by the two lawyers, was announced during an online press conference of the Association of Progressive Lawyers ( Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği; a lawyers association founded in the mid-1970s, lawyers from People’s Law Bureau are members of the association), which took place on April 5.
What happened until this decision was taken?
In September 2017, the offices and homes of lawyers from the People’s Law Bureau in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Izmir and Istanbul were raided by SWAT teams and agents of the political police. During the raids, police arrested more than 20 lawyers, who were defending the rights of workers, students, residents of the poor neighborhoods of large cities, in short, those who were arrested were lawyers of the people. After about 2 weeks under custody in the headquarters of the political police in Istanbul, the lawyers were jailed. They were transferred to several isolation prisons in different parts of Turkey.
Despite the repressions, the People’s Law Bureau, established in 1989, continued its activities.
One year after the mass arrests, in September 2018, the lawyers were brought the court for the first hearing of the trial in Istanbul. The jury of the specialized court in Istanbul has ordered the release of all lawyers. But, just a few hours after that ruling, the members of the jury that issued the decision to release the lawyers from the People’s Law Bureau were replaced by others, with the already changed jury of judges issuing a new ruling that all lawyers were released just hours before, they have to be detained by the police and re-imprisoned.
Many of the lawyers of people, as they have become known in recent years, have been detained again by the political police, less than 24 hours after the court ordered their release. Lawyers who were not detained by the police at the time were included in the lists of “wanted for terrorism” drawn up without any legal basis by the Turkish Ministry of Interior, with cash awards amounting to tens of thousands of Turkish liras. In practice, the authorities thus opened the way for their police officers to commit new extrajudicial killings, in the course of their manhunt, all over in Turkey. For this reason, some of the lawyers were forced to live in illegality and to hide, others, like lawyer Günay Dağ, were forced to leave Turkey and seek asylum in European countries.
In 2019, some of the wanted lawyers were arrested and imprisoned after police raided offices and houses in Istanbul.
In March 2019, at a criminal court hearing in Istanbul, the fascist court issued sentences totaling 159 years on the attorneys at the People’s Law Bureau, who were arrested in the September 2017 operation.
During the trial, the fascist court overturned all legal rules, with the allegations against lawyers based entirely on the false testimony of “protected witnesses” and police informants who had become puppets in the hands of the fascist oligarchy through which it sought to legitimize its politically motivated lawsuits against revolutionaries and all opposition groups and individuals who, in one way or another, opposed its policies.
The decision of the court of the first instance was also upheld by the Court of Appeal in Istanbul at the beginning of October 2019. According to the affirmed decision of the court of the second instance, the lawyers – Aytaç Ünsal and Ebru Timtik were sentenced to 10 years, 13 years and 6 months respectively. At the same time, the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeal has not yet ruled on the verdicts imposed on lawyers from the People’s Law Bureau.
How did the lawyer’s hunger strike begin?
First of all, it should be noted that the hunger strike of the lawyers from the People’s Law Bureau comes after 3 years of continuous repression by the fascist oligarchy, arrests, assaults, tortures on lawyers defending the rights of their clients, bounties for the heads of the wanted lawyers, and of course protests. For more than 1 year, Lawyer Didem Baydar Ünsal has been conducting a “single picket” every week for justice in front of the Istanbul courthouse. Several times during her protest, she was attacked and detained by police but continued her protest. By her protest, lawyer Ünsal wants to draw attention to the case of her colleagues and to expose the unjust sentences given to them solely based on the false testimonies of police informants and “protected witnesses”.
On February 3, 2020, 8 lawyers from the People’s Law Bureau, who in March 2019 launched a hunger strike against the degraded judicial system in Turkey, and to support the demands of their clients, members of the Grup Yorum and political prisoner Mustafa Koçak.
On March 11, 4 of the lawyers announced that they were turning their hunger strike into an indefinite strike, namely: Aytaç Ünsal, Barkın Timtik, Ebru Timtik and Oya Aslan. Then the lawyers announced that, in support of the demands of their clients, the musicians from Grup Yorum and political prisoner Mustafa Koçak, with their hunger strike, aimed to oppose fascism and to show that, even in prison, in severe isolation, they continue to fight for the rights and freedoms of the people.
On April 5, as we mentioned at the beginning of our article, attorneys lawyers Aytaç Ünsal and Ebru Timtik announced that their hunger strike would continue in the form of Death Fast(Hunger strike till death).
However, it seems that the events of the last few weeks have led the people’s lawyers to decide to turn their indefinite hunger strikes into a hunger strike till death. This decision has also been influenced by the atmosphere of permanent fascism and violent repressions against revolutionaries and the people in recent years. We can list many factors, but the whole reason for this form of protest is the injustice and aspiration of the people’s lawyers to oppose it, albeit at the cost of their lives.
“Now everything is clarified, more than ever. Either I die or my demands will be accepted! “
On April 7, a hearing was held in the case to examine lawyer Ebru Timtik’s measure of restraint. She was jailed after being arrested at the end of June 2019 at the People’s Law Office in Istanbul. At the hearing, the court considered whether there was a need for an extension of the lawyer’s detention, and was eventually decided to release her, but since she had been remanded in another case, she was not released.
Below, we publish excerpts of her defense speech in court, explaining why she started the hunger strike till death.
“My client Helin Bölek, has died in a hunger strike till death, for the right to a fair trial and the right to sing her songs freely. I am her lawyer, and I represent her demands.
It’s not me who preferred the hunger strike till death. The people’s lawyers were doomed to die by the judicial system of which you are a part. The government wanted to kill us both professionally and politically. I only decided on what form this would happen. Is this going to happen though struggle or it be silent?
Now everything is clarified, more than ever. Either I die or my demands will be accepted!
I think you need to release me, you need to release me to give up from your habits.
To this day, I have expressed all my demands in order to have legal proceedings conducted in accordance with legal rules. These lawsuits are a tyranny masked behind legal phraseology. For this, for the right to a fair trial, I began a Hunger Strike till Death, on April 5th, the Lawyer’s Day.
Did the prosecutor examine the evidence presented in the case before or after the hearing? He asked for an extension of the imprisonment, as he was doing something ordinary and normal, like eating bread or drinking water. To grant my release means to free yourself from the burden. I am free more than ever. Because I got rid of all my fears. “