Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala sentenced to life in prison

A Turkish court on Monday sentenced prominent Turkish civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala to life in prison without the possibility of parole, finding him guilty of attempting to overthrow the government amid the 2013 mass anti-government protests .

The Istanbul court also sentenced seven other defendants, including 71-year-old architect Mucella Yapici, to 18 years in prison each for “aiding” the attack. He ordered that activists who were not in custody be immediately arrested, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The verdict, which is likely to damage Turkey’s ties with Western nations, comes as Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe, has launched infringement proceedings against Turkey for refusing to comply with a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which called for Kavala’s release on the grounds that his rights had been violated.

Kavala, 64, has been held in Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul since his arrest on October 18, 2017 and accused of funding the protests. He and other defendants have denied all charges and are expected to appeal the verdicts.

Human rights groups say Kavala was prosecuted with flimsy evidence and the case is politically motivated.

“Justice has not prevailed”

Supporters of Kavala and the seven other defendants immediately protested the verdicts on Monday, shouting slogans in support of the 2013 protests that escalated from a dispute over the construction of a shopping mall in an Istanbul park into protests against the government of then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ozgur Ozel, an opposition lawmaker whose party frequently questions the independence of Turkey’s courts, accused the judiciary of allegedly responding to the wishes of Erdogan, who is now president.

“Justice has not prevailed here today – the will of the person running this country has been carried out,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

Ozel also denounced the trial as an attempt by Erdogan to “demonize extremely peaceful protests organized for environmental reasons”.

Kavala calls the decision an ‘assassination’

Asked about his final words in court on Monday, Kavala said: “The aggravated life sentence demanded of me is murder that cannot be explained on legal grounds,” according to the Media and Law Studies Association group which has followed the trial.

In his defense statements on Friday, Kavala again denied the charges, insisting he simply brought pastries and face masks to protesters. He said claims he led the protests are “not plausible”.

Kavala, seen speaking at an event in this undated photo, was sentenced to life in prison after being accused of trying to overthrow the government. (Anadolu Culture/Reuters)

“To have spent 4.5 years of my life in prison is an irreparable loss for me. My only consolation is the possibility that my experience contributes to a better understanding of the serious problems of justice,” Kavala told the court. by video. Silivri conference.

Kavala is the founder of a non-profit organization, Anadolu Kultur, which focuses on cultural and artistic projects promoting peace and dialogue.

Kavala was initially acquitted in February 2020 of charges that linked him to the 2013 protests at Gezi Park. As supporters awaited his release, Kavala was re-arrested on new charges linking him to the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The acquittal was later overturned and the case was merged with that relating to the attempted coup, which the Turkish government blames on the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies any connection to the coup attempt.

The court on Monday acquitted Kavala of charges related to the attempted coup, saying there was insufficient evidence, Anadolu reported.

In October, Kavala’s continued detention sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the United States, France and Germany, after they called for his release on the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment.

Erdogan has accused Kavala of being the “Turkish branch” of US billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who the Turkish leader says has been behind insurgencies in many countries. He threatened to expel Western envoys for interfering in Turkey’s internal affairs.

The 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling said Kavala’s imprisonment was aimed at silencing him and other human rights defenders and was not backed up by evidence. evidence of a violation.

The lengthy infringement procedure by the Council of Europe, a 47-member human rights bloc, could lead to the suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or membership in the organization.

Erdogan dismissed the infringement procedure, saying Turkey would not “recognize those who do not recognize our courts”. Turkey had argued that Kavala’s detention was linked to the 2016 coup attempt and not to previous charges that had been considered by the European Court.