Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala sentenced to life in prison
All, including Kavala, have the right to appeal convictions.
The pursuit of Kavala, who was not particularly well-known in Turkey before his arrest in late 2017, has become a source of growing tension with Ankara’s Western allies. Ahead of Monday’s verdict, Turkey faced a rare suspension from the Council of Europe, a human rights body, for refusing to comply with European Court of Human Rights rulings requiring Kavala, who has been imprisoned for more than four years, be released.
Last year, Turkey threatened to expel 10 foreign ambassadors, including the US ambassador, after their embassies signed a letter calling for Kavala’s release, triggering a brief diplomatic crisis.
Turkey’s Erdogan declares 10 ambassadors “persona non grata”.
The court’s decision came as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government attempts to mend barriers with NATO allies after years of strained relations, including by acting as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine and by taking modest steps to stem the flow of military equipment to Moscow. The verdict also coincided with a visit by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to Turkey as part of Ukraine-focused peacemaking efforts.
Kavala’s long ordeal had become a symbol of Erdogan’s relentless crackdown on opposition figures, dissidents and other perceived enemies in the years after a coup attempt against the government in 2016. But even among the masses drawn into the net of the state, Kavala stood out. for Turkey’s extraordinary efforts to keep him locked up and for Erdogan’s apparent personal antagonism towards him.
Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this year that Turkey was “using domestic court decisions to extend Kavala’s detention and extend the length of baseless prosecutions. Courts have issued fictitious release orders, brought multiple criminal charges against Kavala on the same facts, and separated and joined cases accusing him of false offenses.
Expression Interrupted, an organization that monitors freedom of expression in Turkey, published a 7,000-word article attempting to decipher the mass of legal actions against Kavala, calling it a “Kafkaesque legal spiral”.
Turkish officials have repeatedly called the judiciary independent and denied that court decisions are influenced by politics.
Kavala, 64, founded Anadolu Kultur, an organization that promotes diversity, culture and human rights. He has been in detention since November 2017.
An indictment has branded him as an organizer and financier of nationwide protests against Erdogan’s government in 2013, which are seen as the Turkish leader’s first real challenge to power. The protests were sparked by a government plan to destroy green spaces in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and have turned into a nationwide protest movement against Erdogan’s authoritarian style.
The indictment also accused Kavala of colluding with George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, to incite the protests. Both Kavala and Soros have strenuously denied the charges, and Kavala has already been acquitted by a Turkish court, which ordered his release.
Instead, prosecutors prepared new charges.
The final session in the latest case began Friday and continued Monday. Before a crowded gallery that included journalists, Western diplomats and opposition politicians, the defendants and their lawyers were given the opportunity to make their final statements. Among the participants was Kavala’s wife, Ayse Bugra, a university professor.
In a lengthy address to the court via video link from prison on Friday, Kavala detailed his long journey through the Turkish justice system, including arrests, dashed hopes of release, further arrests and what he said to be signs throughout time that politicians had their thumbs on the scales. The trial “became completely distorted under political influence, and my detention prolonged into an act of deprivation of liberty by abuse of power”, he said.
A Turkish activist has been acquitted after two years in prison. But prosecutors arrested him again.
He added: “An attempt is underway to criminalize the events in Gezi Park and discredit the will of hundreds of thousands of citizens who participated in the events, using the fictional scenario featuring George Soros and me.” In fact, he added, the protests were “unplanned and unexpected”.
“After losing 4 and a half years of my life, the only aspect in which I can find solace is the possibility that the process I have been through can contribute to tackling the crucial problems of the Turkish justice system,” he said. he declares.
“This is the worst possible outcome,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director of Human Rights Watch, who called it “a mock trial, from start to finish,” in which the alleged evidence in the case – a series of “wild claims” – has never been tested.
“Nobody asked him about what he did,” she said, referring to Kavala.
It is also disheartening, she added, that the verdict came while the UN Secretary General was visiting Turkey, “without saying anything” about the trial or the human rights situation in the country. country.
In the shocked courtroom on Monday, as the defendants were arrested and their supporters broke down in tears, some in the gallery invoked the name of the square where the Gezi protests began: “Everywhere, c ‘est Taksim”, they chanted, “Everywhere there is resistance”.