Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (Progressive Lawyers’ Association), ÇHD for short, has become a symbol of the fight against unlawfulness and violations of the right to defend suffered by lawyers in Turkey. The association is the primary defender for crucial legal cases such as the Soma mine disaster and the Nuriye Gülmen - Semih Özakça case - two academics who lost their jobs with a statutory decree signed by the president. There are currently prison sentences given to 18 ÇHD-member lawyers. Another 9-year trial against 21 lawyers was sentenced to a total of 146 years in prison. 

Practitioners of law constitute one of the occupational groups in Turkey that face unlawfulness. Apart from being deprived of their right to defend and being ignored during court hearings, today, lawyers are detained and even arrested with complete disregard for the code of lawyers. 

One of the most interesting cases relevant to the arrest of lawyers is the ÇHD case, involving many lawyers including the chairman of the association, Selçuk Kozağaçlı. Kozağaçlı has been the attorney in many critical legal cases along with his friends. 

Following the Soma mine disaster killing 301 mine workers, he took on the job of defending the families of the deceased, for which he has suffered physical attacks from law enforcement before the court hearings. In January of 2013, the arrest of 15 ÇHD members was ordered and their offices were unlawfully invaded. 

Among them, Selçuk Kozağaçlı, learned about the arrest order while abroad, returned to Turkey and got arrested. Spending 14 months in prison, he was charged with being a member of an illegal organization just like many other arrested lawyers. Kozağaçlı was released after the court hearing on March 21, 2014. As of now, there are no longer any lawyers still arrested in this on-going case. Declared five days after the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, the state of emergency (OHAL) started two new waves of arrests for Kozağaçlı and his colleagues. 

The numerous statutory decrees (KHK) signed by the president following the state of emergency declared on July 20, 2016 deprived thousands of public workers of their jobs, closed down a large number of media organizations and associations. One of the associations closed down was ÇHD, where Selçuk Kozağaçlı was the chairman. Statutory decree numbered 677, publicized on November 22, 2016, closed down ÇHD as well as Association of Libertarian Lawyers (Özgürlükçü Hukukçular Derneği), Lawyers’ Association of Mesopotamia (Mezopotamya Hukukçular Derneği), and Association of the School of Justice (Adalet Okulu Derneği).  Among the thousands of public workers, who lost their jobs with statutory decrees, were Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça. They started a demonstration in front of the Statue of Human Rights (İnsan Hakları Heykeli) on Yüksel Street of Ankara in order to make themselves heard by the public. Soon after, their demonstration turned into a hunger strike and eventually got them arrested on May 23, 2017. Lawyers of Gülmen and Özakça’s were ÇHD-members. 

Media organizations sympathetic to the government started doing propaganda-like broadcasting against the two academics’ strike, which found great applause from the public. It was not only Gülmen and Özakça who were charged being members of an illegal organizations, the same applied to their lawyers too. 

July 19, 2017 - A suspect detained by the police made a statement claiming Gülmen, Özakça and 20 lawyers, members of ÇHD and People’s Office of Law (Halkın Hukuk Bürosu) were members of an illegal organization. Throughout the proceedings of the lawsuit, this person kept changing statements, making additions to them.  July 21, 2017 - The Ministry of Interior released a booklet on its official website, making allegations against Nuriye Gülmen, Semih Özakça and their lawyers. At that point, there were no legal provisions against them. The booklet was titled The Never-ending Plot of a Terrorist Organization - The Truth about Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça (Bir Terör Örgütünün Bitmeyen Senaryosu - Nuriye Gülmen ve Semih Özakça Gerçeği). September 12, 2017 - Two days prior to the court hearing of Gülmen-Özakça, as a pre-trial arrest,16 lawyers were detained for 8 days. 15 of them got arrested. Gülmen and Özakça’s lawyers were among the 15.   November 3, 2017 - President Erdoğan said during a rally: “Extreme left, to our regret...these people abuse and provoke families. They play games on families. We are well aware of who these are. Families of our martyrs should stop this game.” He was targeting Selçuk Kozağaçlı and the other lawyers defending the families of those killed in the Soma Mine Massacre.   5 days after Erdoğan’s words, Selçuk Kozağaçlı was detained and later on November 13, 2017, arrested. In about a month after, Yaprak Türkmen also got arrested, pushing the number of arrested lawyers to 17. On March 2, 2018, a lawsuit was filed against 20 lawyers, 17 of them were arrested pre-trial. The indictment accused Kozağaçlı and others with being members of an illegal organization based solely on allegations of one person and called for heavy imprisonment. One year after the arrests, between September 10-14, the lawyers went before the judge. During the first hearing held in Bakırköy Courthouse, they were physically attacked by the military police (jandarma), their clothes were ripped apart, and handcuffed in the courtroom in front of the judicial panel. On Day 5 of the trial, the judges decided that the hearings should take place in the courtroom adjacent to the Silivri Penitentiaries Campus. Over 300 lawyers went to Silivri for the hearings that went for 5 days.  On September 14, 2018, the last day of the trial, around 10 PM, the judicial panel decided in favor of their release. 9 lawyers who were in Silivri Prison were released at 6:30 AM in the morning, while the other 8 from Bakırköy Prison were released at 4:30 AM. The reason for not releasing them earlier despite the ruling was later understood: the prosecutor had issued an objection to the ruling after midnight. Following the objection, on September 15, 2018 the judicial panel met on a Saturday night and voted unanimously for the arrest of 12 of the lawyers, for whom they had accepted release unanimously the day before. Their release was met with great cheer, especially from lawyers, who also planned a celebration at the Istanbul Bar Association for September 15. On their way to the celebration, newly released lawyers Aycan Çiçek, Aytaç Ünsal, Engin Gökoğlu and Behiç Aşçı were detained by the Counter-Terrorism Police in the street of the bar association. On the same day, Ahmet Mandacı, another lawyer, was detained from his family home in the city of Çanakkale. On Sunday, September 16, lawyers Çiçek, Ünsal, Gökoğlu and Aşçı went before the Istanbul 37th Assize Court. Lawyers asked for the removal of the Counter-Terrorism Police from the courtroom, which was overruled on grounds of the “publicity of the hearing”. “Accused” lawyers refused to give identification protesting the court and the unlawfulness; and they got, once again, arrested. Next, Ahmet Mandacı, detained in Çanakkale, got arrested through a video conference call (SEGBİS). It was surprising for the judicial panel too, when the ÇHD chairman Selçuk Kozağaçlı entered the courtroom during the hearing. Not seeming to care for the arrest order for himself, Kozağaçlı, availed himself to a stroll into the courtroom, having previously stopped by the bar’s office, called his lawyers and shared a video on social media explaining why he was going to the courthouse. He said in the video that he did not see the arrest order as one worthy of following and added: “I did not come here to follow suit with an order. The reason I came here is because I wanted to throw their impudence, fear, and shame in their faces.”  Having walked into the courtroom and found a seat for himself in the section for the accused, Selçuk Kozağaçlı said to the panel “Before you will find an arrest order for myself. Here I am, I helped myself in.” Perplexed from seeing the “fugitive” Kozağaçlı and not knowing what to, the judicial panel left the courtroom. They came back soon after and announced that they will discuss the ruling regarding Ahmet Mandacı and left the room again. Later, they ordered the police to leave the courtroom. When the lawyers resisted, force was used upon them. Kozağaçlı was taken to the police station while Mandacı was arrested. The next day, Kozağaçlı was also arrested without any record of his statement in front of the court he was taken to (For a more detailed description of the events, see Tora Pekin’s article Akbabanın Üç Günü (Three days of the Vulture) published in the Autumn, 2018 issue of the magazine Express.) On September 19, 2019, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (Hâkimler ve Savcılar Kurulu) disbanded the judicial panel that decided on the release order for the lawyers. In the hearings that followed (December 3-5, 2018) the criminal procedure was completely disregarded. On December 4; first, the viewers and journalists, and then, the defendants’ lawyers, and lastly the defendants were thrown out of the courtroom and the trial proceeded with only the judicial panel present.  A witness, claiming to be an intelligence officer, was heard while no one else was present. The lawyers claimed that the witnesses were heard in an unlawful manner under the influence of the judicial panel. The panel asked for opinion as to the accusations from the prosecutor two times, once on October 1, 2019 and then for a second time on February 4, 2019. The arrested lawyers went on a hunger strike on January 24, 2019 (on the Day of the Endangered Lawyer) in order to draw attention to the unlawfulness and demand fair trial until March 18th, the day they went on trial again. On February 21, 2019, the prosecutor presented their opinion as to the accusations. In the opinion comprised of only four pages, the prosecutor was accusing the lawyers of being members of DHKP/C (Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front) and asking heavy imprisonment for them. On March 7, 2019, bar associations of Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Antalya, Bursa and Aydın issued a complaint to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors about the demeanors of the judges of the 37th Assize Court. The judges did not allow the defendants’ lawyers into the courtroom on March 20, 2019. In the courtroom, where the protesting defendants were absent, the decision was presented: imprisonment of 18 years and 9 months for Barkın Timtik, 13 years and 6 months for Özgür Yılmaz and Ebru Timtik, 12 years for Behiç Aşçı and Şükriye Erden, 10 years and 15 months for Selçuk Kozağaçlı, 10 years and 6 months for Engin Gökoğlu, Aytaç Ünsal, Süleyman Gökten, 9 years for Aycan Çiçek and Naciye Demir, 7 years and 12 months for Ezgi Çakır, 3 years and 9 months for Yağmur Ereren, Yaprak Türkmen, Didem Baydar Ünsal, and Ayşegül Çağatay, 2 years 13 months for Zehra Özdemir and Ahmet Mandacı. One of the strongest reactions to the decision came from the Istanbul Bar Association. Their press release read: “As the Istanbul Bar Association, we hereby express that we are experiencing a first in the history of Turkish jurisdiction...We will never give up on our ideals of justice as the Istanbul Bar Association and attorneys-at-law. We will never be silenced. Even if we are left alone.” The case is currently being processed by the Court Cassation. The case that was previously opened against Selçuk Kozağaçlı and his friends, on the other hand, is still ongoing. On February 3, 2020, 8 arrested lawyers, members of ÇHD, went on hunger strike expressing that the practice of law cannot be subjected to trial. Ebru Timtik in Silivri Prison No. 9 and Aytaç Ünsal, who is in Burhaniye T Type Prison, turned their hunger strike into a death fast demanding a fair trial. When the Forensic Medicine Institute reported that Timtik and Ünsal were not suitable for being in prison, the lawyers were hospitalized on 30 July 2020. On August 11, 2020, the Constitutional Court rejected Timtik and Ünsal's application for an eviction measure on the grounds that "there is no serious danger to their material or moral integrity." Ebru Timtik, on the 238th day of her death fast, passed away in Bakırköy Dr. Sadi Konuk Training and Research Hospital. Aytaç Ünsal was released on September 3, 2020 with the decision of the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court. On the 213th day of the death fast, it was decided that Ünsal's execution would be stopped and immediately released until he's recovered, "as it is understood that staying in prison conditions would be life-threatening".

On September 15, 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the prison sentences given to 14 lawyers, except for Ebru Timtik, who died due to death fast, as well as Barkın Timtik, Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Ezgi Çakır.

On September 22, 2020, rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have expressed their concern over the situation of lawyers in Turkey after a series of worrying developments – including decision of the Turkish Court of Cassation to uphold heavy prison sentences against 14 lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers’ Association involved in “terrorism-related” cases or cases deemed sensitive.

On October 5, 2020, the case, in which 18 lawyers were sentenced to more than 159 years and the decision was approved by the Supreme Court with a large majority, was transferred to the Constitutional Court (AYM). In the AYM application, the "right to a fair trial" regulated in Article 36 of the Constitution and Article 6 of the ECHR, and the "right to assembly and demonstration" regulated in Articles 26 and 34 of the Constitution and Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR. and freedom of association was violated.

The Public Prosecutor announced his opinion on November 15, 2021. About Selçuk Kozağaçlı, he demended up to 30 years prison sentence and for Barkın Timtik demended up to 53.5 years of prison sentence. An arrest warrant was also requested for Lawyer Taylan Tanay, who was tried pending trial, and Taylan was sentenced up to 56 years. In the opinion, it was claimed that the defendants were operating in the People's Law Office, which was established and operates by the instructions of the top management of the armed terrorist organization DHKP/C, and which is known as "athletes" within the organization. On 17 November 2021, the defendants appeared in court for the fourth time. Selcuk Kozağaçlı, who made a statement against the opinion at the hearing at the Istanbul 18th High Criminal Court, emphasized that those who prepared the documents in the indictment had either fled inside or abroad. The court board decided to continue the detention of Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Barkın Timtik and postponed the hearing to 5-6-7 January 2022. In the sixth hearing, it was announced that "digital evidence", whose "existence and validity" had been the subject of debate for eight years, was brought to the court for the first time. The court decided to continue the detention of Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Barkın Timtik and adjourned the hearing to 23 March 2022.

Nothing changed in the hearing on June 1, 2022. It has been decided once again that the detention of Selçuk Kozağaçlı, Barkın Timtik and Oya Aslan will continue. 

In the case where 21 lawyers were tried, Selçuk Kozağaçlı was detained for 6 years and Barkın Timtik was detained for 5 years, the verdict was announced on 11 November 2022.

The lawyers received the following sentences:

Selçuk Kozağaçlı: 12 years in prison for "being a member of a terrorist organization" and 1 year for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization"

Barkın Timtik: 12 years in prison for "being a member of a terrorist organization" and 9 years and 8 months for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization"

Oya Aslan: 10 years in prison for "being a member of a terrorist organization" and 6 years for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization"

Taylan Tanay, Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı, Güçlü Sevimli, Gülvin Aydın: 6 years and 3 months in prison for "being a member of a terrorist organization." The announcement of the verdict for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" was deferred.

Güray Dağ, Efkan Bolaç, Serkan Arıkanoğlu, Mümin Özgür Gider, Metin Narin, Sevgi Sönmez, Alper Tunga Saral, Rahim Yılmaz, Selda Yılmaz: 6 years and 3 months in prison for "being a member of a terrorist organization"

Özgür Yılmaz: 1 year in prison for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" (Because he had a finalized sentence for "being a member of a terrorist organization," this charge was dropped in this case.)

Şükriye Erden: Announcement of the verdict for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" was deferred. (Because she had a finalized sentence for "being a member of a terrorist organization," this charge was dropped in this case.)

Naciye Demir: The announcement of the verdict for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" was deferred.

Files of the defendants Zeki Rüzgar and Günay Dağ were separated.

The case against Ebru Timtik, who lost her life in a death fast demanding a fair trial was dropped.

The ÇHD case consists of two separate cases that were merged. After the first case at the İstanbul 37th Heavy Penal Court, the Court of Cassation had overturned the verdicts for four lawyers.

The verdicts for the other lawyers that were upheld by the Court of Cassation:

Özgür Yılmaz: 13 years and 6 months

Behiç Aşçı: 12 years

Şükriye Erden: 12 years

Engin Gökoğlu: 10 years and 6 months

Aytaç Ünsal: 10 years and 6 months

Süleyman Gökten: 10 years and 6 months

Aycan Çiçek: 9 years

Naciye Demir: 9 years

The local court had sentenced Ezgi Çakır, a lawyer of the defendants, to 8 years in prison. The Court of Cassation had ruled that Çakır should have been sentenced to "knowingly and willingly aiding the organization." 

In the notification dated 12 May 2023, the chief prosecutor's office of the Supreme Court of Appeals stated that lawyers Alper Tunga Saral, Güçlü Sevimli, Efkan Bolaç, Gülvin Aydın Savran, Güray Dağ, Metin Narin, Mümin Özgür Gider, Naciye Demir, Nazan Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı, Oya Aslan, Özgür Yılmaz, Rahim Yılmaz, He stated that the conviction decision against Selda Kaya, Serhan Arıkanoğlu, Sevgi Özer, Şükriye Erden and Taylan Tanay should be reviewed by the court of appeal. In the notification, it was stated that the conviction given to Barkın Timtik and Selçuk Kozağaçlı on the charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" should also be examined by the court of appeal.

On February 6, 2024, four lawyers who are members of ÇHD were detained after the armed attack on the Istanbul Courthouse, by breaking the door of their office. Following the prosecutor's interrogations, they were referred to the Criminal Court of Peace with a request for arrest. Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı, Seda Şaraldı and Didem Baydar Ünsal was arrested. The arrested lawyers are accused of violating Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code.

You can visit cagdashukukcular.org online address for the final report prepared by 22 legal institutions from abroad, including the European Bar Association and the Italian Bar Association, who participated in the ÇHD Case as an observer.