A Needed Declaration About Our Clients Taken Under Custody During the March of Syrian refugees

Public Announcement and Press Release

As you might already know, there are over 2 million Syrian refugees that had to flee their homes due to civil war and take refuge in Turkey now. We keep receiving more and more news of people dying while trying to cross the sea to arrive in Greece in hopes of better lives. The public has become aware that refugees, mostly of Syrian origin, have organized through social media and started on a journey to Edirne from September 10th onwards, many of whom were stopped at the entrance to Edirne as well as in Istanbul Esenler and Edirne bus terminals, and were forcefully kept there waiting for days. The refugees have a very simple demand: Legal and safe passage through the borders in order to stop death crossings.

As refugees kept waiting, many non-governmental organizations and volunteers were also present there to provide food, healthcare services, or simply moral support. Similarly, as news of groups of migrants setting out to march to Edirne in very harsh conditions started coming, many responsible people went there to see if they can provide any help.

Following the police intervention at the Mahmutbey toll booths to the TEM highway, although they were far from the group that the police intervened, our clients Charlotte Lecaille, French citizen, and Nora Sophia Freitag, German citizen, who were among those people trying to provide help, were taken under custody. The reason for their presence there was nothing but to help their friends find their families, and to show humane solidarity. The other three detainees, Ali Fares, Muhammed Fares, and Abdalsalam Sakkal are Syrians that had to leave their homes just like hundreds of other migrants there.

While detaining our clients without any justifications was unlawful, what followed after they were released by the prosecutor’s office the next day was way beyond unlawfulness.

Charlotte Lecaille and Nora Sophia Freitag are being held in Kumkapı Foreigners’ Repatriation Center since September 22nd without any official statement or legal decision served to relevant parties. This is a clear violation of the principle of an individual’s freedom and safety secured under the European Human Rights Agreement and the Constitution of Turkey.

On the other hand, when we, as lawyers, arrived at the Repatriation Center to see our clients on September 24th, our demand to visit them was rejected by the police officers on duty at the gate of the Repatriation Center, on the grounds that the Governor’s Office gave special orders for these individuals. If such orders do exist actually, this is explicitly unlawful, and both those who gave the orders, and those who executed the unlawful orders, have committed crime. Our demand to see the said orders was rejected, and our petition to see our clients was not accepted by the police officers on duty. Since one of the most important assurances of prohibition of segregation, as emphasized by European Court of Human Rights, is the right to get legal aid by a lawyer, this right should be concretely held and effectively applied beyond abstract recognition.

On September 25th, the Istanbul Court of Peace on Duty has declined to take our petition remarking these unlawful practices and that our clients are still being detained in the Center under prison conditions despite the fact that the 48-hour time period prescribed by law for administrative supervision and deportation order has expired. Our ability to take legal action on behalf of our clients has been practically eliminated. These unlawful practices, deliberately relying on the fact that it is Bank Holiday (the Eid), and all the institutions that we might apply are closed, have not only limited our clients’ rights, but are highly worrisome as they demonstrate that it is now practically impossible to practice law effectively. We expect lawyers and the public to be sensitive to this situation.

False, speculative news articles pushing the limits of conscience that appeared in a group of press organs are also an important consideration. Claiming that these individuals are “Agents” and “Provocateurs” solely on the grounds that they, who went there to find their friends and friends’ relatives among hundreds of people who had to leave their countries of origin because of war, are European citizens, is totally irrational. How these press organs came to these conclusions is a mystery, since our clients were just questioned on the grounds that they had violated the Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, and were released the next day. Moreover, news articles showing their passports and IDs that were held by the police on the day of detainment clearly violate the Right of Privacy. Legal action will be taken against those responsible for the news content explicitly and severely violating the individual rights of our clients, the media outlets that exposed these legal documents, and those who leaked these to the press.

Throughout the world, immigration issue has become unsolvable following the civil war in Syria. Our clients are obviously not responsible for problems of war and immigration, as these are results of the system’s deadlock. The problem is political, not legal. Political mistakes cannot be justified by incriminating our clients and attempting to prevent them exercising their rights by totally unlawful methods. Obviously, people marching to the border for survival and those supporting them are not the culprits; the states that started and fuelled the war, and closed their borders to desperate people who had to flee their homes due to war are the culprits.

As lawyers involved in the process until now, we consider it necessary to inform the public against current information pollution and lack of legal means. We hereby announce that we are closely following the situation in order to end the legally groundless practices including unlawful and unjustified detention of our clients, to put an end to the speculative defamation campaign against them, and to take necessary action against the unlawfulness of the process.

Respectfully,

Arzu Aydoğan, Lawyer

Rengin Ergül, Lawyer

Esra Salmanlı, Lawyer

Sinem Uludağ Gök, Lawyer

Cem Gök, Lawyer