The pressure and intimidation on lawyers in Turkey are increasingly detrimental to the ‘right to defend’. Among the top risks lawyers run are their right to defend being ignored and disrespected in and out of court halls, mass detentions and arrests, investigations and intimidation for legal bar associations, lawyers being penalized for their clients. Lately, we saw another mass detention happening on March 12 of this year. Attorney-at-law Sevda Çelik Özbingöl, along with 12 of her colleagues in cities like Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Şanlıurfa were taken into custody following home invasions. Özbingöl has been arrested on March 17 and transferred to Urfa Type-T Penitentiary. She is being accused of being a member of an ‘armed terrorist organization’.
In the morning of March 12, with home invasions in three cities, Mesut Beştaş, Özkan Avcı, Zeynep Işık, Bahar Oktay and Osman Çelik from Diyarbakır Bar Association; Hidayet Enmek, Sevda Özbingöl Çelik, Emrah Baran, Hüseyin İzol, Metin Özbadem, Cemo Tüysüz and Şeyhmus İnal from Şanlıurfa Bar Association, and Gürgün Kadirhan from Şırnak Bar Association were detained.
Many professional organizations released statements following the home invasions. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Advocates, an organization born as a partnership of International Federation of Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture, condemned the detentions and stated that the attorneys-at-law were being legally harassed with these unfounded detentions as a blow on the legitimate human rights actions taken by these people striving for human rights.
Sevda Özbingöl Çelik got arrested on March 17, 2020 for allegedly being ‘a member of an armed terrorist organization’. Özbingöl has been practicing law for 20 years in Urfa, where she focuses on human rights cases. She is a board member for Şanlıurfa Bar Association’s Human Rights Center and Women’s Rights Committee, as well as for the Şanlıurfa Branch of Human Rights Association, and a former co-president for HDP’s Şanlıurfa Office. Figen Yüksekdağ, HDP’s former co-president, is Çelik’s client in the case at Şanlıurfa 5th Assize Court where Yüksekdağ is accused with ‘making propaganda and being a member of an armed terrorist organization’.
In the interrogation at Şanlıurfa 3rd Penal Court of Peace, Çelik was asked questions about her professional work and the statements given by an anonymous witness, known as ‘Rüzgar’. In her statement, Sevda Özbingöl Çelik emphasized that her actions have always remained within the borders of attorney-client relationship. She also affirmed that her meetings with the people mentioned in the statements given by anonymous witnesses were all done for professional reasons and that those people are her clients.
However, the court decreed an arrest for Sevda Çelik Özbingöl. Her colleagues protested the decision and gave a statement to the press in front of the bar association office, where they emphasized that Çelik has been arrested based on her legitimate professional actions, her meetings with her clients and based on statements given by anonymous witnesses.
The first hearing of Sevda Çelik Özbingöl was held at Şanlıurfa 6th High Criminal Court on Thursday, August 27, 2020, at 09:00, after approximately 5 months of detention. The court decided to continue the detention and adjourned the trial until September 25, 2020.
President of the Urfa Bar Association, lawyers from the bars of Antep, Diyarbakır and Ankara and lawyers affiliated with the Freedom Lawyers Association (ÖHD) attended the second hearing. The court rejected Özbingöl’s request for acquittal and adjourned the trial until 2 October 2020. This hearing was also postponed once again on the grounds that there were deficiencies in the file and the court gave the new hearing date, 17 November 2020.
On October 19, 2020, Ranko Pelicarić, president of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), wrote a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to express their concern over the continued detention of Sevda Çelik Özbingöl.
Özbingöl’s 4th hearing was held at Urfa 6th High Criminal Court on November 17, 2020. According to the prosecutor’s opinion, she was requested to be punished with the charges of “membership of a terrorist organization, propaganda of a terrorist organization and opposition to the Law No. 2911”. The court board decided to continue the detention.
At the fourth hearing on December 11, 2020, Özbingöl, who has been in detention for 9 months, was released under the condition of judicial control and a ban from abroad.
On April 4, 2021, the 16th Ordinary Congress of IHD Urfa Branch was held and Sevda Çelik Özbingöl was elected as the delegate of the Supreme Council.
At the sixth hearing of the case on April 6, 2021, the prosecutor gave his final opinion and demanded that Özbingöl be punished for “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “terrorist propaganda”. The court gave time to the defense and adjourned the case to 7 June 2021.
In the judgment hearing on June 7, 2021, the court sentenced Özbingöl to 6 years and 6 months for membership in an armed terrorist organization, 1 year and 3 months for violating the law numbered 2911 three times, and 1 year and 3 months for propaganda of the armed organization, for a total of 11 years and 6 months.