Thousands of lawyers gathered outside Istanbul’s main courthouse Tuesday to protest a ruling party-proposed bill that would amend Turkish laws on attorneys and bar associations, changes the protesters allege is intended to silence lawyers with views that run counter to the government’s.
The protest coincided with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s party submitting the legislation to parliament. The draft bill would allow more than one professional association for lawyers to be formed in Turkey’s 81 provinces, instead of the single regional bar association permitted now.
Erdogan said the measure, if approved by lawmakers, would make bar associations “more democratic and pluralist.”
Dressed in their professional robes, the lawyers protesting Tuesday shouted “The defense cannot cannot be silenced!” and “Rights, laws and justice!” outside the Caglayan Courthouse on the European side of Istanbul.
The existing bar associations and opposition parties in Turkey claim the move is aimed at reducing the clout of the associations, many of which are outspoken critics of Erdogan’s government.
Ahmet Melik Derindere, head of the bar association for Amasya Province, said the law opens the way for the “politicizing and the polarizing of the bar associations.”
“The aim is to divide and rule,” Kamil Erozan, a deputy head of the opposition Good Party, said. “The bar associations will no longer speak in one voice; there will be several weak voices.”
It was not immediately clear when parliament will take up the draft bill, which is likely to pass with the votes of the ruling party and its nationalist allies.
Last week, authorities blocked the leaders of several bar associations from marching into the Turkish capital of Ankara to denounce plans to introduce the bill, leading to a 26-hour standoff between the lawyers and police before the march was allowed to continue.