Kemal Aytaç, an attorney-at-law, member of Istanbul Bar Association and Çağdaş Avukatlar Grubu (Contemporary Lawyers Group), has been called in numerous times to give a statement on the basis of his alleged active role in Justice Watch (Adalet Nöbeti), which started back in 2017; and a lawsuit has been filed against him. The basis for this latest case, which ended in acquittal, was “making a public speech addressing the attorneys in the courthouse.” He was tried on the charge of “Organizing, Leading, and Participating in Illegal Gatherings and Rallies.” An indictment was prepared against Aytaç on the charge of “insulting the President”.
Kemal Aytaç was born in Amasya, Turkey in 1960. Following his graduation from Istanbul University Faculty of Law, he has been a part of Istanbul Bar Association, working for it in various capacities, including regional offices, Criminal Court Law (CMK) representation offices, as well as various head offices and committees. From 2000 through 2002, he was a member of the board, in charge of Center for Lawyers’ Rights (Avukat Hakları Merkezi), Office for Criminal Court Law (CMK), Arts and Culture Committee (Kültür Sanat Komisyonu) and regional representation offices. Aytaç also started and published two monthly journals on legal matters, Günışığı (Sunlight), Hukuk ve Adalet Eleştirel Hukuk Dergisi (Law and Justice Journal of Critical Law). He has been a board member at Contemporary Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği -ÇHD) as well.
Attorneys of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, Bülent Utku, Mustafa Kemal Güngör and Akın Atalay have been detained on October 31, 2016 along with the editors, administrators and columnists of the newspaper on grounds that they allegedly support PKK/KCK and FETÖ/PDY. Nine of those detained were later, on November 5, 2016, arrested and put in prison. During the period of state of emergency (OHAL) following the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, in an atmosphere where even a simple press release was prohibited, Kemal Aytaç became one of the organizers for Justice Watch, started by lawyers on April 6, 2017 to defend the Cumhuriyet arrestees. Aytaç considered the watch a mass action started by lawyers. For a period of 85 weeks, these lawyers kept watch every Thursday for one hour in front of the Themis statue located in the courtyard of the Çağlayan Courthouse in Istanbul. The presidents of Istanbul, Diyarbakır, Ankara, Van, Antalya, Hatay, Adana, Bursa, Kocaeli, Artvin bar associations as well as a great number of journalists, jurists and academics have all supported the action openly and firmly.
The first rally was violently dispersed by the police following an order from the prosecutor. The lawyers were dragged on the street, attacked with batons, knocked down by shields where Gökmen Yeşil, branch president of Contemporary Lawyers’ Association, got a broken nose while Erkan Ünüvar, a lawyer got a broken leg. A lawsuit was filed against 10 lawyers.
The second gathering turned out to be much more crowded where the lawyers found support from many different circles.
During the 44th gathering of Justice Watch, on February 1, 2018, Aytaç’s house was invaded by the police along with a warrant for detention of Aytaç on grounds that he publicly read out loud Turkish Doctors’ Association’s declaration ‘War is a Public Health Issue’, which had been previously targeted and attacked by the president Erdoğan. When Aytaç went to the courthouse to give his statement he learned that the decision for detention was withdrawn. He was later released after his statement was taken.
That day, many of his colleagues gathered once again in front of the Themis statue to greet him and give him their support.
Aytaç was one the 10 lawyers who were detained and released pending trial on the first week of Justice Watch. Istanbul 50th Criminal Court of First Instance has given a ruling of acquittal in October 2018, on grounds that the legal conditions were not met for the charge “Illegal gathering and participating rallies unarmed, resisting dispersal in spite of warning from law enforcement.”
Kemal Aytaç was also there in front of the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan on August 20, 2019, protesting the decision by the Ministry of Interior to appoint trustees (kayyım) in place of the elected HDP municipal governors. The police, not allowing any public speech to be made, violently confronted the protestors, which included some MPs, physically attacking them.
On January 30, 2020, Kemal Aytaç, accused of “making a public speech addressing the attorneys in the courthouse” on May 4, 2017, went on trial again, based on Article 28/1 of the Turkish Penal Code. The indictment of this case mentioned “Supporting the arrested suspects of the Cumhuriyet investigation under the name of ‘Justice Watch’.” The first hearing of the court case filed accusing Aytaç of “Organizing, Leading, and Participating in Illegal Gatherings and Rallies” will take place on November 10, 2020 at Istanbul 9th Criminal Court of First Instance.
Aytaç was acquitted within the scope of freedom of expression at the first hearing on November 10, 2020.
Aytaç made a press statement in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse on 22 June 2020, after the presidents of the Bar Associations were prevented from marching to Ankara. As a result of the investigation opened against him because of this speech, an indictment was issued for “Publicly Insulting the President”. The first hearing of the case was held on 3 June 2021 at the Istanbul 60th Criminal Court of First Instance. The court decided to write a warrant to the Ministry of Justice in order to obtain permission to prosecute him.