Türkiye: “I've been arrested and sent to prison” - a human rights lawyer tells his story

Guchlu Sevimli, a human rights lawyer, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison for denouncing the corruption in the judiciary ©DR

Türkiye's justice system has long been criticized for its narrow links to political powers. Guchlu Sevimli, a human rights lawyer, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison for denouncing the corruption in the judiciary. He speaks about his struggle and his hopes for his country.

Why become a lawyer?

Initially, it wasn't my personal aspiration, but my late father urged me to pursue law. During my final years in law school, influenced by political views, I saw the importance of the fight for rights and freedoms in the country and the need for committed lawyers.

What does it mean to be a lawyer in Türkiye?

Political powers frequently target those engaged in the fight for rights and freedoms. Over the past decade, the pressure on lawyers through arrests, detentions, and lawsuits has significantly increased. The tragic case of Ebru Timtik, a colleague who died in detention, is a poignant example of the pressures we face.

What are the issues in the Turkish judicial system?

The judiciary's problems have deep historical roots in Türkiye, stemming from systemic peculiarities. The most significant issues are injustice, corruption, and the judiciary's alignment with political interests. The justice system has never been entirely independent of political power, but the extent of this dependence has escalated, especially in the last five years.

You mentioned injustice. How does this manifest?

Many people are convicted based on unlawful or absent evidence. In cases where convictions would be unlikely under normal legal processes, individuals are sentenced and incarcerated. Arrest warrants are issued easily.

What pressures have you personally faced?

I've been arrested and sent to prison. I spent roughly a year incarcerated before I was released. In late 2012, an operation led to the arrest of nine lawyers, including myself, for activities associated with our human rights group, the Progressive Lawyers Association. None of these activities were illegal, but about six months ago, we were all sentenced to six years and three months in prison for alleged membership in an illegal organisation. The case is currently before the Court of Cassation.

What motivates you to continue your work?

I believe the current regressive and authoritarian order in Türkiye must be dismantled. This motivates me daily to get up and fight for human rights.

What are your hopes for the human rights movement in Türkiye?

Through their persistent struggle, human rights defenders will overcome the injustice that prevails in the country. Civil society has faced severe oppression, but I hope we will survive and win the fight.