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Turkey keeps civil society leader Osman Kavala jailed despite European ruling

Osman was accused of plotting to overthrow Erdogan [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 December, 2019

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Osman Kavala is accused of trying to overthrow the government during the 2013 mass protests, when Erdogan was prime minister.
A Turkish court on Tuesday ruled that a civil rights activist and businessman be kept in jail despite a European court judgment that called for his immediate release, the state-run news agency reported.

Osman Kavala was arrested in November 2017 and accused of organising anti-government protests four years earlier.

He was charged with “attempting to overthrow the government” by organising and financing an “uprising” with 15 other defendants.

The charge carries a potential life prison sentence.

Ruling in favour of Kavala earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights said there was no evidence that the businessman had committed an offense and called on Turkey to end his detention.

On Tuesday’s hearing in a courtroom in the outskirts of Istanbul, Kavala requested his release in line with the European court’s judgment.

The local court however, ruled that he be kept in pre-trial detention, saying it needed to wait for the justice ministry to confirm the European court’s decision, Anadolu Agency reported. The trial was adjourned until 28 January.

Read More: In Turkey, Kurdish educators take their classrooms underground amid repression

Kavala rejects the accusations leveled against him.

The protests began in 2013 to protect the small Gezi Park in central Istanbul from development but quickly evolved into wider anti-government demonstrations across Turkey.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse mostly peaceful protesters. At least 11 people were killed and thousands were injured.

Kavala founded the Anatolian Culture Foundation, an organisation that focuses on cultural and artistic projects for peace and dialogue.

Prosecutors claimed Kavala and the other defendants tried to overthrow the government of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was prime minister in 2013 and is now president.

Kavala is among a group of 16 Turkish businessmen, academics and artists on trial, suspected of trying to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He is accused of orchestrating and funding the protests, and six of the suspects are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.

The indictment against the defendants also claims that billionaire philanthropist George Soros masterminded the Gezi protests, but doesn’t name him as a suspect.


Erdogan is among the 746 complainants on the indictment and has publicly accused Kavala of financing the protests with Soros’ backing.

Kavala had his second hearing in July, which had been adjourned until 8 and 9 October. 

At the time he told the court: “There is no concrete evidence against me” and demanded his release.

Kavala and the accused risk life in jail if convicted in a case dismissed by rights defenders as “absurd”.

Amnesty International Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner said it was "obvious" Kavala was being punished "for his civil society activities and to intimidate other civil society actors".

"We call for Osman Kavala to be released and charges against all 16 to be dropped," Gardner said.

“Ending this farcical prosecution would be emblematic of a return to the respect of domestic and international human rights protections,” he added.

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