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Category: Human Rights Defenders

demand-freedom-justice-for-Iranian-lawyers
CommitteeHuman Rights Defenders

We demand freedom and justice for Iranian lawyers

Lawyers in Danger Day was dedicated to Iran this year. HRS organised a protest and sent a letter Iranian Ambassador. 24 January Lawyers in Danger Day was dedicated to Iranian lawyers this year. As HRS, we organised a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in London in support of lawyers facing rights violations in Iran. Together with lawyers in Iran, we demanded justice, freedom and democracy for all their colleagues around the world. We also sent a letter to Ambassador Mehdi Hosseini Matin with our concrete proposals.

International Day of Endangered Lawyers has been celebrated all over the world on 24 January since 2010. This date was chosen because on 24 January 1977, four lawyers and a colleague were killed in Madrid and this event is known as the Atocha Massacre.

Iran is among the most dangerous countries for lawyers. Since the 1979 revolution, lawyers have been subjected to harassment and persecution. Following the protests that followed the tortured murder of Jina Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022, the crackdown intensified, particularly on lawyers defending imprisoned protesters.

Since 2021, around 60 lawyers have been detained and hundreds have lost their licences. Most recently, Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer for Mahsa Amini’s family, was sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “propaganda activities against the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “collaboration with hostile states”.

The independence of lawyers is heavily restricted by law. There is an almost complete lack of access to legal representation of one’s choice for anyone arrested and charged in connection with protests.

Women lawyers in Iran face additional difficulties. They are forced to wear the hijab in court, and some have been prosecuted for refusing to do so. Female lawyers also face particular harassment in the courtroom.

Please find below the letter we sent to the Iranian Ambassador to the UK, Mehdi Hosseini Matin:

lawyers-danger-day-dedicated-amini
BlogCommitteeHuman Rights Defenders

Why is Lawyers in Danger Day dedicated to Iran this year?

Following the protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, lawyers in Iran have faced unjust arrests and harsh sentences. On January 24th, we observe the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, a day dedicated to bringing attention to the risks lawyers face worldwide—persecution, intimidation, and violence—simply for doing their jobs. This date remembers the tragic events of January 24, 1977, when four Spanish lawyers and their colleagues were brutally murdered in what is known as the Massacre of Atocha, a moment that deeply moved Symone Gaasbeek-Wielinga and Hans Gaasbeek. Shocked by such violence, these two Dutch lawyers embarked on a monumental journey in the Philippines in 1990, uncovering the grave dangers faced by lawyers involved in politically charged cases.

Driven by a commitment to protect their peers, Symone and Hans played pivotal roles in establishing the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer in 2009. They also founded the Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation, aiming to cast a spotlight on this urgent issue and urging governments worldwide to cease the persecution of legal practitioners.

This year, our focus turns to Iran, a country where lawyers, following the protests triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death, face unjust arrest and severe punishment. Figures like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Mohammad Hossein Aghasi symbolise the courage of those detained for defending the right to protest.

On this day, we stand in solidarity with endangered lawyers in Iran and around the world who are being persecuted simply for carrying out their professional duties and upholding human rights and the rule of law. We call on the international community to demand the release of lawyers imprisoned for doing their jobs. Our colleagues deserve to be able to practice without fear or intimidation.

International law clearly recognises lawyers’ essential role in upholding justice and human rights in any society. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers specify certain protections and rights that lawyers globally should be afforded to allow them to perform their roles without being subject to interference or intimidation. These principles assert that lawyers should not be identified with their clients’ causes or held responsible for them. It is incumbent upon governments to ensure that lawyers can execute their professional responsibilities freely, devoid of harassment or undue interference. In instances where lawyers face threats to their safety, the authorities are obliged to provide necessary protections.

Furthermore, these principles forbid any discrimination in the licensing of lawyers based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or political beliefs. Ensuring access to legal representation for all individuals is a mandate. Independent bar associations, which shield lawyers from persecution and excessive limitations, must be allowed to operate without external interference.

Determining the exact count of lawyers incarcerated in Iran is difficult due to the lack of transparency. Nonetheless, it is understood that a significant number have been targeted, especially in the aftermath of the 2022 protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death. According to information from the United Nations dated June 2023, between September 16, 2022, and January 10, 2023, at least 44 lawyers were arrested for participating in the protests. While 27 of these legal professionals were freed, the remainder remain in detention.

The Iranian government should take the following steps to ensure lawyers can perform their professional duties without interference or intimidation:

Release lawyers imprisoned for convictions related to their work. Stop prosecutions and other sanctions against lawyers for actions taken ethically in their professional capacity.

Ensure lawyers are not identified with their clients’ causes. Do not charge lawyers for representing clients, regardless of the charges against those clients.

Allow lawyers to form independent professional associations without government interference.

Ensure disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are overseen independently by the legal profession, not the government.

Do not discriminate against people entering or practising law based on race, gender, religion, etc.

Protect the safety of lawyers who face threats due to their work.

Allow lawyers freedom of expression, belief, assembly, and association like all citizens.

Ensure everyone has access to legal services and lawyers of their choice, regardless of social or economic status. Fund legal aid sufficiently.

Inform accused persons immediately of charges against them and allow prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. Recognise lawyer-client confidentiality.

Allow lawyers access to information necessary to defend their clients.

Accept an independent international inquiry into the death of Mahsa Amini and other protest victims, given the questionable motivations behind prosecutions of lawyers and the need for justice.

In closing, We have included a detailed report compiled by the International Coalition for Endangered Lawyers and Iranian Attorneys, which sheds further light on the grave dangers faced by lawyers in Iran who are persecuted for fulfilling their professional responsibilities. I implore legal professionals, bar councils, human rights groups, and other associations globally to access and review this illuminating report. Please aid in spreading awareness regarding the struggles of endangered Iranian lawyers by circulating this report through social media and your networks.

BY BATUHAN KARAKUS

india-human-rights- project-violations
Human Rights DefendersReportsUK Authorities

India Human Rights Project: Violations

Over the past few months, HRS undertake a project to investigate six key areas of human rights abuses in India. The current BJP Indian government has been responsible for some of the significant human right violations. The government and its associated have been involved in extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; political prisoners or detainees; and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists. HRS has undergone a project over the past few months to investigate six key areas of human rights violations in India:

 

  1. Freedom of Expression
  2. Freedom of Assembly
  3. Religious Freedom
  4. Discrimination based on Caste
  5. Human rights violations against Kashmiris
  6. Rights of Children

 

Each of the six reports details past and present studies and details of the current situation in India respective to the topic covered, while also providing points of reflection and recommendation for ways forward. The hope is to both spread awareness and inspire action.

amendment-proposals-hate-crrimes-european-parliament
European ParliamentHuman Rights DefendersReports

Our amendment proposals to the European Parliament

We proposed amendments to the draft report on extending the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crimes. We have been closely following the discussions surrounding the Draft Report on ‘Extending the List of EU Crimes to Hate Speech and Hate Crime’ and would like to share our proposed amendments.

Firstly, we would like to express our strong support for the initiative to address hate speech and hate crime within the EU framework. These offenses pose a significant threat to the principles of equality, diversity, and inclusion that the European Union upholds. Extending the list of EU crimes to encompass hate speech and hate crime would send a powerful message that the EU is committed to protecting its citizens from all forms of discrimination and violence.

We sincerely believe that the incorporation of our amendment proposals will strengthen the overall effectiveness of the EU’s efforts to combat hate speech and hate crime. Our organization will continue to be committed to contributing to a safer and more inclusive European Union, and we are always eager to collaborate with the European Parliament.

letter-un-turkish- government-repression-citizens-
Articles & StatementsHuman Rights DefendersUnited Nations

Letter to the UN on the Turkish government’s transnational repressions

 

In the letter, we expressed our deep concern to UN officials about escalation of extraterritorial repression by the Turkish government.

 

In recent years, there has been a worrying increase in cases where the Turkish government has targeted its own citizens beyond its borders. This phenomenon, characterised by harassment, intimidation, abduction and even violence against Turkish citizens residing abroad, is a direct violation of fundamental human rights and poses a significant threat to global peace and security.

The consequences of this transnational repression are far-reaching, going beyond the victims to affect the integrity of the international human rights framework. By eroding the principles of asylum, safe haven and protection from persecution, the actions of the Turkish government set a dangerous precedent that threatens the safety of individuals seeking to flee repression around the world.

We are gravely concerned by the atmosphere of fear that the Erdogan regime, further strengthened by the election results, has created against Turkish dissidents living abroad. We have written the following letter to the “Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances” and “UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism” in order to make them aware of the issue and to take the necessary steps.

IMG_20230626_121506
EventsHuman Rights DefendersUK Authorities

Torture in Turkey: Parliamentary event on multilateral sanctions with Baroness Kennedy

 

In the panel held in the British Parliament, crimes of torture and countermeasures involving state officials in Turkey were discussed. On Monday 26th of June 2023, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws hosted an event in UK Parliament in collaboration with The Arrested Lawyers Initiative and Human Rights Solidarity.

The event covered ‘The Deterrence Potential of Multilateral Sanctions for Human Rights Abuses in Turkey’ to discuss Impunity, torture, and ill-treatment in Turkey in relation to Magnitsky Sanctions from the United Kingdom. Speakers, Kevin Dent KC, Sarah Teich, Natalia Kubesch, and Michael Polak, presented at the event on their work against this issue and encouraged the public to raise awareness on the current political situation in Turkey and the UK’s benefit to help.

Baroness Helena Kennedy

The state of emergency in Turkey marked the beginning of gross human rights violations, including widespread torture facilitated by the adoption of impunity provisions, enforced disappearances and mass detention on an industrial scale. According to official figures, more than 600,000 people have been detained by the police on overly broad terrorism charges, while more than 100,000 have been remanded in custody. Between 2016 and 2021, more than 310,000 people were convicted of membership of an armed terrorist organisation. Since 2016, more than 1,600 lawyers have been detained, and so far, 551 lawyers have been sentenced to 3,356 years in prison on terrorism-related charges, mostly for
membership in terrorist organisations.

In September 2020, The Arrested Lawyers launched the Turkey Human Rights Accountability Project in response to the ongoing rule of law violations and imprisonment of lawyers, activists, journalists and academics on trumped-up charges. Prominent British barristers Kevin Dent KC and Michael Polak, who both attended the event. An extra step was made towards the Canadian Government, authored by Mr Dent and Mr Polak, as well as Ms Sarah Teich.

Significant Quotes:

Baroness Kennedy: “Turkey has been brought in front of the European Court of Human Rights and the court found defiance of rule of law time and again. At this point in time, the Council of Europe is weighing the possibility of taking action against Turkey.”

Michael Polak: “Sanctions work better when multiple countries are involved.”
“We provided the Foreign Ministry a well studied 500 pages long evidence file. Two years passed over our submission and every other month I am sending them an email and asking, did you read it. No response.”

Sarah Teich: “There are things we can learn from the UK and there are things they can learn from Canada. Multilateral learning is as good as multilateral sanctions.”

Kevin Dent KC: “This sense that you cannot sanction a friendly country has to be overcome. When I speak to people who are critical of Turkey’s human rights records, they say it is too complex to have sanctions on nationals of Turkey.”

Natalia Kubesch: “The fact that nationals of friendly countries avoid sanction gives a message of hypocrisy and that some lives matter more than others.”

Sarah Teich, Michael Polak, Kevin Dent QC, Beatrice Travis (London Advocacy, Moderator) Natalia Kubesch

Key Points made in the event:

• The event covered case submissions made to the governments of the UK, US, and Canada, detailing first-hand accounts of torture present in Turkey.

• The UK has a close security and diplomatic relationship with its Turkish counterparts. Turkey is a NATO member, a formal ally of Britain and has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950. Turkey is also a close trade partner to Britain, with the UK being the second biggest importer of goods from Turkey.

• This context creates significant diplomatic sensitivities, impacting the UK government’s willingness to impose targeted human rights sanctions Turkish officials, in the fear that it could jeopardise future relations. Instead, the UK’s
government’s preference to date has been to raise any concerns pertaining to the human rights situations in Turkey bilaterally, at the ministerial level on an ad hoc basis.

• The case of Turkey demonstrates that even established democracies face the risk of sliding into authoritarianism and instability if they fail to confront emerging abuses and allies to do not hold them to account.

• There is a demand for action from governments who are yet to respond despite it being nearly two years since submissions to the UK and Canada:

• These sanctions are about visa arrangements and asset freezing.

• Sanctions can also provide an important symbolic form of accountability by expressly recognising the harm suffered by victims and calling out perpetrators for their involvement in the abuses: sanctions can convey strong signs of disapproval by condoning, and explicitly demanding changes, to the
targeted individuals’ or entities’ behaviour. Specifically, sanctions enable states to send a statement “that this will not stand”, deterring others from engaging in similar conduct.

systematic-torture-turkey
Human Rights DefendersReportsYoutube

An animated film of the ‘Systematic torture in Turkey’ report was shot

 

The report on the systematic torture of dissidents by state agents in Turkey has been turned into an animated film. Human Rights Solidarity (HRS) and London Advocacy (LA) have produced short animated films based on the report on the systematic torture of opposition groups in Turkey. One of the videos, posted on HRS’s YouTube channel, tells women being tortured, while the other shows men being tortured.

The report, entitled “Systematic torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in places of detention in Turkey”, was published last February and submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in March. The report reveals the widespread use of torture by Turkish law enforcement since 15 July 2016, when the fundamental rights and freedoms of Turkish citizens were put on the back burner.

You can access the videos by clicking on the links below: 

A Female Victim Statement                       A Male Victim Statement

strasbourg-meeting-justice-letter-council-europe-ecthr
Council to EuropeEventsHuman Rights Defenders

2nd Strasbourg meeting for justice: Letter to the Council of Europe and the ECtHR

 

We came together for the second time in Strasbourg to reiterate our call for justice against rights violations in Turkey. Nearly 3 thousand people who have been subjected to rights violations in Turkey met in Strasburg, France, where the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe are located, and demanded urgent justice.

The second ‘Strasbourg Justice Meeting’ and ‘justice march’, the first of which was organised last year, was held today. The march protested against the silence of European political structures and legal institutions in the face of rights violation applications from Turkey.

Organised by a number of European human rights organisations including Human Rights Solidarity, the demonstration included a concert and various theatrical performances. Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour Party in the UK, also made a speech on the stage, supporting the protesters and criticising the ECHR for delaying its decisions. Famous NBA player and activist Enes Kanter and Norwegian theologian Dag Aakre took the stage and expressed their demands for justice.

Approximately 3 thousand people who left Turkey due to severe human rights violations they suffered in Turkey for about 10 years gathered on All de la Robertsau Street, where the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council of Europe are located. Wearing yellow t-shirts and carrying yellow balloons and banners, the crowd expressed their demands for justice in front of the Council of Europe and the ECHR buildings after 12.00 pm. “Justice delayed is not justice! Victims are here, where is the court?” they chanted. Since no one from the Council of Europe greeted them, the victims left a letter with their demands at the door. The group then continued their march and stopped in front of the ECHR to present their letters to the officials of the institution.

LETTER TO THREE IMPORTANT EUROPEAN NAMES

Yasemin Aydın and Rumi Unal, representatives of the Peacefull Actions Platform, which represents hundreds of thousands of people whose rights have been violated, presented a letter addressed to three names holding important positions in European institutions. During the presentation of the letter, a theatrical performance was staged criticising the ECHR for issuing its judgements too late. A prison cell on wheels representing people who have been imprisoned for years also took place during the march.

The letter read as follows:

“Inhumane practices against all opposition groups in the country continue unabated. These widespread and systematic violations have been characterised as ‘crimes against humanity’ by the relevant UN bodies. Once again, no progress has been made on the more than three thousand educational institutions, thousands of legal associations and at least $32 billion in private assets confiscated after 15 July. Tens of thousands of women, the elderly, the sick and hundreds of babies under the age of six are still being held in prisons for political reasons. Dozens of people continue to be arrested on hollow charges on an almost daily basis. The hope of thousands of people systematically subjected to gross human rights violations is that the Council of Europe and the ECtHR, which have the authority to take binding decisions on Turkey, will enforce the law. It is essential that these institutions take their legal position on these acts of crimes against humanity without further delay and fulfil their obligations immediately. We are grateful for some of the judgements of the ECtHR during this time, which have been a breath of fresh air for the victims of political repression. However, we expect the Court, as soon as possible, to stop ignoring the fact that more than half a million people are being persecuted simply for exercising their fundamental rights, such as subscribing to a newspaper, having a bank account or sending their children to legally operating schools, joining a religious chat group or using a mobile communication app.”

INJUSTICES HIGHLIGHTED

As in the previous year, this year, as well as foreign guests, people who have been subjected to rights violations in Turkey and their families made speeches at the Justice Gathering. Melek Cetinkaya, mother of Taha Furkan Cetinkaya, a military student who was released after 6 years in prison, lawyer Elif Buyukozturk, teacher Halit Tonbul, teacher Gonca Kara who lost her two children Gulsum and Mustafa in the Aegean Sea, academic Salih Hosoglu, Nesrin Kisi, wife of torture victim Zabit Kisi, were among the speakers.

deprem
Council to EuropeEuropean ParliamentHuman Rights DefendersReportsUK AuthoritiesUnited Nations

Injustices after the devastating earthquake in Turkey

 

This report reveals the extent to which the rights of minority and opposition groups have been violated after the disaster. South-eastern provinces of Turkey were hit by one of the deadliest natural disasters of human history on the 6th of February 2023. The affected region is dominantly inhabited by Kurds, Alevites and Syrian refugees — all traditionally discriminated against, or at least considered to be neglected populations in Turkey.

As a result, the earthquake exacerbated the existing social cleavages and made the existing injustices increasingly more visible.

Our report reveals particularly the extent to which the fundamental rights and freedoms of minority groups are violated in the post-disaster period.

You can read our information note on rights violations after the earthquake in Turkey in the section below:

Publish

aihm
Council to EuropeHuman Rights DefendersReports

Our amendment proposals to PACE on the implementation of the judgement

 

We submitted our amendment proposals on the Implementation of the judgments of the ECHR: 11th draft report of the PACE. We are proud to announce our proposed amendments to the draft report on the Implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: 11th Report. We hope to make a contribution to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which is dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.