Turkish police stopped participants of the March for Defence, a protest started by the presidents of 80 bar associations in Turkey, from entering the capital Ankara, BBC Turkish reported on Monday.
Fifty-eight bar association presidents were stopped as they arrived in the city, after marching from their respective provinces throughout the country.
The presidents began the March for Defence on Friday against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s plans to amend laws on how they operate. Proposed changes include allowing multiple bar associations in provinces, and a change in the election system, which professional organisations maintain would weaken lawyers’ ability to provide defence services.
Istanbul Bar Association President Mehmet Durakoğlu said the police contravened Turkey’s democratic principles and rights to protest. “I want to shout out loud: Sixty bar association presidents are not allowed into Ankara. The police is telling us that this is a different republic,” he told a Halk TV reporter. “This shows us how righteous our marches to this point have been.”
“Let it be known that we will pass through,” Durakoğlu said.
— Av.Ufuk ÖZKAP (@UfukOzkap) June 22, 2020
The protest did not have a permit from the Ankara governorate and was violating social distancing guidelines, the police said.
Sporadic scuffles erupted between the lawyers, who went to meet bar association presidents at the capital’s entrance, and riot police units, after the group started an impromptu sit-in where they were stopped.
Officers were caught on camera, dragging lawyers on the highway.
— Fersude (@GazeteFersude) June 22, 2020
“Do not touch me,” a lawyer can be heard shouting at an officer in a video shared on Twitter.
— Ayten Uyan (@UyanAyten) June 22, 2020
One police officer was caught on camera shoving Bektaş Şarklı, president of the southeastern Gaziantep province, and shouting out, “You cannot walk on a highway!”
— Cumhuriyet (@cumhuriyetgzt) June 22, 2020
Metin Feyzioğlu, president of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) who frequently comes out in support of the Turkish government, visited Anıtkabir as the police intervention was happening, accompanied by 15 association presidents who disagreed with the protest.
Such visits to the mausoleum of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk are among common practices in the country when protesting the government.
The TBB president on Friday had insinuated that the protest had an ulterior motive and said, “I am the president of an organisation tasked to defend the interests of the state.”
“How will Feyzioğlu, who declared himself a state official, face his colleagues tomorrow?” tweeted journalist and opposition lawmaker Barış Yarkadaş.
Turkish social media users have started a hashtag calling for Feyzioğlu’s resignation.
“We are here! We are not going away, we are not afraid! Where is Metin Feyzioğlu?” tweeted Izmir Bar Association Board Member Gamze Karaoğlu.
— Gamze Karaoğlu (@Gamze_Karaoglu) June 22, 2020
“Lawyers are an integral part of the rule of law, they represent and defend citizens’ rights and freedoms,” tweeted former AKP deputy Mustafa Yeneroğlu, who joined the breakaway DEVA party as a founding member.
“We are gravely concerned that under a state of non-emergency, security forces have roughed up presidents of bar associations. We condemn police violence against lawyers!” Yeneroğlu said.